Sunday, 25 January 2015

National Television Awards 2015

Hooray! I was lucky enough to be at the twentieth National Television Awards earlier this week.  Thanks to a lovely drama contact, the chance of being a seat filler and sitting amongst the celebrities is something I and my family jump at.  There’s always the faint hope that a little bit of their stardust might rub off on us.
          As we waited for direction in the wings of the O2, cold gusts of air whirled around our ankles.  A side door suddenly opened letting in another icy blast and a woman bustled past us gabbling into a walkie-talkie.  ‘Heads up. Simon Cowell has finally arrived. Traffic was awful. Get him in and make it quick.’
          ‘Oh my goodness!’ I squeaked to nobody.  ‘Simon Cowell is going to be here.’  Yes, I admit it.  I used to have a crush on him.  Please note the past tense.  I promise I’ve now outgrown lusting after a man who dyes his hair, has teeth whiter than my Persil-washed shirts, and has so much botox in his forehead that his eyes are in danger of relocating around his chin.  Nonetheless, you can’t deny being a little bit in awe of such a giant in the music industry.  Suddenly there was a frisson in the air as Mel B, right arm heavily tattooed and minus hair extensions, stalked past.  I was amazed how small she was.  Even in her high heels, I still towered over her, and I’m only average height.
          A techie dressed in head-to-toe black and wearing a headpiece suddenly materialised by our sides.  ‘Follow me when I say “Go”,’ she said in a harassed voice.  ‘Okay…GO!’
          The television cameras had started to roll and it was vital we ducked down.  Tripping over camera cables, and resisting the urge not to wave at Alan Carr, I scampered after the techie with my family trailing closely behind.  Trying not to tread on celebrity toes, we threw ourselves into the central part of a row, one in front of the Emmerdale cast, and two behind the Celebrity Juice crew.  Suddenly hundreds of colourful spotlights were whirling about as the audience exploded into rapturous applause.  I leant back into my seat and tried to act oh-so-very-cool.  A sneaky glance to my right revealed the cast of EastEnders out in full force, and to the left a very depleted number of Coronation Street actors following the sudden and very sad death of Anne Kirkbride.
          The spotlights merged into a single beam and there was our host for the night, Dermot O’Leary.  The entertainment was brilliant.  The celebrities plentiful.  Even though I didn’t recognise half of them – not being a telly watcher as such – it still a thrilling night.  Television must add an awful lot of weight to your figure, because celebrities I’d always thought a little, well, dumpy, were actually perfectly normal shapes.  And the ones who you believed to be a normal shape are actually pin thin.  Television certainly adds height to people.  I think the only celeb taller than me was David Tennant.  I swear everybody else was 5’6” and under.  It’s also amazing how some smile and beam away at camera and act so very, very jolly, but the moment the camera is off them they’re really rather scowly.  The cast of Emmerdale tutted and chuntered and rubbished other actors when they didn’t win anything themselves, as they’d consumed rather a lot of wine (judging from the bottles around their feet), and weren’t too quiet about it either.  I won’t mention names, but my daughter’s boyfriend accidentally bumped into one half of a famous duo going through a doorway.
          ‘Oops, sorry,’ said my daughter’s boyfriend.  ‘After you.’  And he politely held the door open for the celebrity.
          ‘Oh no, really,’ said the celeb sarcastically, ‘after you, mate,’ before rudely shoving past him.  As I said, I won’t mention names, but his forehead is enormous.  Clearly to accommodate the size of his big head.
          ‘And you want to go into this industry!’ I murmured to my daughter, as we moved out into the cold night air.  ‘Promise me you’ll never get a massive ego.’
          ‘I won’t,’ Eleanor assured.
          Seconds later she was being tweeted by a dress designer who had spotted Eleanor’s own photographed tweets of her wearing one of their dresses.  Suddenly an offer was on the table of promoting their dresses at celebrity functions.
          ‘Oh.  My.  God.’ Eleanor squeaked ecstatically.
          ‘Careful,’ I teased, ‘your head appears to be expanding.’
          Which reminds me.  Everybody has an ego.  It’s just that some celebrities have one that’s bigger.  And better…

Sunday, 18 January 2015


At the start of the New Year my diary flags up a row of names.  These are the birthdays of friends and family members. The first birthday is my mother-in-law’s.  Days later, it is my mother’s.  Trying to buy for these two special people is a challenge which we fail every year.
          ‘What shall we give your mum?’ I asked Mr V.
          ‘Gosh, I don’t know.  Flowers?’
          ‘But we gave her flowers last year.  And the year before that.’  And, I suspect, every year for the last decade.  It’s not that flowers aren’t a nice present – far from it.  But they don’t last.  ‘What about Marks & Sparks vouchers?’ I suggested.
          ‘But what will Mum buy with them?’ my husband countered.
          ‘I don’t know.’ I puffed out my cheeks in thought.  ‘Clothes?  A visit to the Food Hall?’
          ‘She has lots of clothes.  And she always cooks her own food.’
          Ah, yes.  Unlike me who relies on the cuisine of good old Markies.
          ‘Flowers it is then,’ I sighed, bringing up Interflora’s website.
          Yesterday my phone rang with extra urgency which told me it was my sister on the other end of the line.
          ‘It’s Mum’s birthday next week,’ she gabbled hysterically, ‘and I haven’t a clue what to buy her.’
          ‘Join the club,’ I responded.  I hadn’t long since returned from Bluewater with my daughter where we’d traipsed the length and breadth looking for inspiration.
          ‘Ooh, look, you can buy experiences in Boots,’ Eleanor had pointed to a shelving system sporting fancy boxes with exciting photographs plastered all over the packaging.
          ‘Marvellous,’ I replied picking up a random box.  ‘I’m not sure your grandmother would appreciate a day in woods dressed in camouflage playing Paint Ball.’  After all, Mother Bryant will be eighty-two.
          ‘Ooh, look, a helicopter lesson!’ Eleanor read the blurb avidly.  Her boyfriend is eighteen in a few weeks and I could see the cogs of her brain whirring.
          ‘Think of something different,’ I smiled, taking the box from her.  My mind whooshed backwards to a year when I’d purchased the very same gift for Mr V.
          ‘I’m a bit of an action man,’ Mr V had boasted on our fourth date.
          ‘Really?’ I’d gasped in admiration.  ‘What, you mean you love doing crazy things, like bungee jumping off bridges?’
          ‘Well I haven’t done anything like that, but I’d certainly be up for it.’
          And so an idea was born.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find any gifts that involved hurtling from a great height on a piece of elastic, but I did find hot air balloons, rally driving at Brands Hatch, and Ferrari Racing at Silverstone.  Mr V seemed to embrace them all with a big smile.  Little did I know he was also clenching his teeth.  But I didn’t unearth that little gem of information until presenting him with a gift to celebrate his thirty-eighth birthday.
          ‘Dah dah!’ I trilled, handing over the tell-tale package adorned with trailing ribbons.
          ‘Ah ha!’ Mr V grinned gamely.  I failed to notice the beads of sweat forming on his brow. ‘I think I know what this is.’
          ‘Bet you don’t!’ I whooped, fidgeting from one foot to the other in excitement.
          ‘It’s jumping out of a plane, isn’t it?’ he chortled, looking slightly green about the gills.
          ‘Nope!  But I’ll remember that for next time!’
          ‘Please don’t,’ he muttered, tearing at the box and looking more and more like a man awaiting to hear the date of his execution.  ‘Oh.  Goodie.  A helicopter lesson.’
          ‘YESSSSS!’ I squealed with excitement.  ‘Do you like it?’
          ‘Y-yes.  I love it.  I-I’ve always wanted to fly an h-helicopter.’
          The great day dawned and my husband squeezed into a helicopter that, it has to be said, wasn’t much bigger than a goldfish bowl.  So small was the cabin, he was practically sitting on the lap of the pilot.
          ‘Isn’t anybody else coming with us?’ asked my husband anxiously, as he strapped himself in.
          ‘Nope,’ said the pilot.  ‘There’s not enough room.’
          ‘So if you have a heart attack,’ Mr V quavered, ‘I’ll be left on my Jack Jones to fly this thing.’
          ‘If I have a heart attack,’ said the pilot cheerfully, ‘you’ll be a dead man.’
           A few feet away I was avidly filming everything on an ancient camcorder, zooming in and out, darting backwards and forwards, and holding the camera at different angles for effect.  In my imagination, Stephen Spielberg had nothing on my camera technique.
          ‘Wave!’ I shouted, as the rotor blades whipped into life.  My husband lifted his hand limply.  Far from looking like Action Man, he appeared positively petrified.  ‘I have amazing footage!’ I yelled.  I gave the thumbs up as the helicopter shot upwards.  Later, when we watched the film, the helicopter plummeted downwards because I was holding the camera upside down.
          When Mr V returned an hour later, he had to be assisted from the helicopter into the hangar’s waiting area.  This was on account of his legs being unable to support him.  Apparently they’d turned to rubber the moment the helicopter’s joystick was placed in his shaking hand.
          On the approach to his next birthday, Mr took my hand.  ‘Can I be absolutely honest with you?’ he asked gently.
          ‘What is it?’ I asked, thoroughly alarmed.
          ‘Can we just celebrate my birthday quietly?  Preferably in a restaurant with both feet firmly on the ground?’
          So that is what we do now.  Meanwhile, I still can’t think of anything for my mother’s birthday.  Pass me that phone.  I need to place an order with Interflora.  Which reminds me.  A long time ago, my father discovered the most effective way of remembering Mother Bryant’s birthday, was to forget it once…     

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Happy New Year!

It’s probably a bit late to wish everybody a Happy New Year, after all the new year is well and truly under way.  But I’ll do so anyway.  Happy New Year!
          After the sadness of having our darling pooch put to sleep and then a family member’s Christmas tantrum, it was good to put the lid on 2014 and embrace 2015 with optimism for better things.  This is the year we hope to move.  Again.  Yes, I know we only moved house fifteen months ago, but our current abode was only ever a stop-gap. It was primarily chosen for the youngest daughter’s convenience in order for her to hop on a bus to college, hop on another bus to her Sunday job, and hop on yet another bus to visit her boyfriend.  The fact that Eleanor’s forays into public transport happen once every blue moon is something of a bone of contention.
          ‘We moved here for you to be independent,’ I moaned, after sitting in a freezing cold car for an hour and a half while Eleanor ‘popped in’ to a nail salon to have her Christmas nails professionally seen to.  ‘We’re no longer surrounded by farmers’ fields and a distinct lack of public transport.  Indeed, there is a bus stop at the bottom of the road and a huge red vehicle roars past every ten minutes.’
          ‘But it’s cold,’ Eleanor pointed out.
          ‘Yes, don’t I know it?’ I retorted.  ‘My hands are like blocks of ice!’
          ‘Well you didn’t have to sit in the cold,’ Eleanor replied. ‘You could have started the car up and had the heater on.’
          My seventeen-year-old has yet to grasp the economics of a vehicle using fuel for ninety minutes whilst travelling precisely nowhere, and has probably never heard of the carbon footprint.
          ‘It’s high time you got on with your driving test and gained some independence,’ I remonstrated, starting the car up and waiting for the heater to kick in.  Years of being an unpaid taxi driver is wearing thin.  ‘How are you going to get about when you go to uni and I’ve moved away?’
          I was greeted with a wall of silence.  This is par for the course.  Both my children are absolutely against any house moving.  They would much prefer we stay put in our stop-gap house which is conveniently situated close to everything.  Want to go shopping?  Down the road.  Want to catch a train?  Up the road.  Want to catch a plane?  Turn left to Gatwick Airport.  Want to run away?  Ahhh, now this is the true crux of which direction to go in.  For I am very aware that an invisible part of me has already embarked upon this journey, and the route is a long and very straight line but I won’t, for now, reveal precisely where this road leads to.  Let’s just say it’s a bit of a trek.  And it’s not my usual stomping ground.  I have wondered, in my moments of trying to be analytical, if the appeal of settling in this unfamiliar location is some sort of psychological thing where I put as much distance between me and those who pull me this way and that, constantly demanding their pound of flesh.  I love my family, but by God I crave peace!
          I have ventured off to this secret place twice now exploring nearby villages built in unfamiliar stone and a landscape that’s rugged and, in winter, bitterly cold.  In my head I’ve bought the house, joined a local rambling group, and even have a new hound at my heels as we trek for miles with nothing but the wind for company.  No doubt I’m looking at the whole thing with rose-tinted spectacles, and the reality could be very different.  But we all need to have our hopes and dreams, and right now I’m enjoying this particular dream.
          Whatever your dreams are for 2015, I hope they become your reality.  Which reminds me.  Jemima was taking an afternoon nap on New Year’s Eve so she was fresh for the festivities. Upon waking, she said to her husband, Max, ‘I had a wonderful dream that you gave me a diamond ring as a New Year’s present.  What do you think it all means?’  Max smiled indulgently.  ‘Aha!  You’ll know later tonight,’ he assured.  At midnight, Max gave Jemima a small package.  Delighted, she quickly opened it.  And there in her hand was a little book entitled The Meaning of Dreams 

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Christmas Tantrums

So, how was your Christmas?  Was it the perfect festive moment?  Or, did it suffer a blip or two?  I have yet to meet anybody who has had the perfect Christmas.  If you know somebody who has said it was perfect, they’re either lying through their teeth, or else they’re very lucky.  And if YOU happened to have the perfect Christmas, treasure it forever, because the perfect Christmas doesn’t happen very often.
          Regarding my latest Christmas, for the purposes of diplomacy and not falling out with anybody, all names shall be changed.  In fact, I’ll even change my own name.  Tell you what, I’ll go one step further and convert the whole experience into a short story.  Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin.

For Laura and Tom it had been a fairly decent year.  The kids were grown-up and almost off their hands.  The eldest, Sarah, was at uni.  The youngest, Jake, was still at home but revving up to leave the nest.  Periodically he’d treat his parents to a spectacular display of hormonal havoc that constantly fizzed and popped beneath the surface, but apart from that life was good.
          ‘I can’t wait for Christmas and some time off work,’ said Tom one evening.  He flopped onto the sofa.  ‘If you don’t mind, love, I’ll have dinner in front of the telly.’
          ‘Sure,’ said Laura.
          Moments later Tom was happily risking his teeth on cremated sausage and concrete chips.  Laura sighed.  Thank goodness she wouldn’t be doing the cooking this Christmas.  Instead the family were descending on her sister-in-law, Jemma, and Jemma’s husband, Alf.  Laura couldn’t wait. But then disaster struck.  Three days before Christmas the family pooch was suddenly taken ill and had to be put to sleep.  The family were devastated.
          ‘I’m so glad we’re going to Jemma’s and Alf’s for Christmas,’ Laura sobbed.  ‘Dishing up a turkey dinner at home without the dog salivating and trying to mug everybody just wouldn’t be the same.’
          The big day dawned and the family set off, glad to shut the door on their too-quiet house devoid of a waggy tail and doggy parps.
          ‘Happy Christmas!’ Jemma greeted the family.  Her face was flushed from standing over a vast range on which every vegetable known to mankind was steaming away. ‘Come in, come in.  Alf?  ALF!  Get that champagne uncorked.’
          Alf appeared in the hall doorway, a paper crown from a Christmas cracker upon his balding head.  ‘Hello,’ he squeaked.  Laura often wondered if Alf’s voice had ever completely broken.  ‘Come through into the lounge.’  Alf proceeded to pass around glasses of chilled bubbly.  ‘Now you know everybody here, don’t you?  Great-Aunty June and Great-Uncle John. And the in-laws, George and Muriel.’
          ‘Did you say something, Alf?’ Great-Aunty June boomed.
          ‘God, she’s deafer than ever,’ Alf muttered to Laura and Tom.  ‘I was just saying,’ he turned to Great-Aunty June, ‘that it’s Laura and Tom who are here, Aunty.’
          ‘Yes, I can see that,’ Great-Aunty June tutted.  ‘There’s nothing wrong with my eyesight you know.’
          Laura smiled and gravitated towards Great-Aunty June.  Like her, June was a doggy person, and Laura found it of some comfort to listen to the old lady waxing lyrical about her two terriers, Jock and Vikki.
          ‘I’m so sorry, dear, to hear about your poor little doggy.’ Great-Aunty June patted Laura’s hand.
          ‘Thank you,’ Laura whispered, and took a slug of champers.  Booze was great at numbing the pain.  ‘How’s Jock and Vikki?’
          ‘Oh same as ever, dear, same as ever.’
          ‘Still good at playing Fetch?’
          ‘Absolutely,’ Great-Aunty June nodded.  ‘Jock in particular loves playing with his balls.  He has quite a collection now.  He sits in his basket licking them, much to Vikki’s annoyance.’
          Laura nearly choked on her champagne.  Great-Aunty June had a way with words.
          ‘Everybody sit up,’ said Jemma.  She set upon the table a huge turkey cooked to perfection.
          ‘You must have been up since dawn cooking this lot,’ said Laura admiringly as she sat down at the table.
          ‘I made the gravy,’ said Alf importantly.
          The teenagers exchanged furtive glances.  They secretly thought Alf a prize berk.  
          ‘Oh, Muriel, no, no, no!’ said Alf petulantly.  He looked extremely put out.  ‘You can’t sit there.’
          ‘Why ever not?’ Muriel asked.  It had taken her ages to creak over to this particular chair and now she was ensconced, she didn’t want to get up.
          ‘Leave her,’ Gemma said, ‘she can sit there if she wants to.’
          ‘But it’s not a comfortable chair,’ protested Alf, switching on the smarm.  ‘I’m just thinking of you, Muriel,’ he smiled patronisingly, ‘and your dear little bony bottom.’
          ‘I’m fine, thanks,’ said Muriel stiffly.
          ‘I want you to move,’ said Alf, asserting himself.
          ‘But I don’t want to,’ Muriel protested.
          ‘Move!’ Alf’s squeaky voice shot up an octave.  ‘I mean it, Muriel.  Just do as you’re told.’
          ‘I really don’t want to,’ Muriel repeated.  ‘I’m fine sitting here.  Honest.’
          But it seemed to have turned into a battle of wills and Alf was having none of it.
          ‘For the last time, Muriel, get off that chair!’
          ‘Here,’ said Jake jumping up.  ‘Have my cushion, Muriel.’
          Suddenly Alf was incandescent with rage.  ‘Back off, Jake!’
          ‘Eh?’ said the hapless teenager.
          ‘I said back off!’
          ‘But I only wanted to give Muriel a cush–’
          Suddenly two hands were pushing Jake backwards.
          ‘I said BACK OFF!’
          Jake, irked at being shouted at in front of an audience, not to mention pushed, experienced a rush of teenage hormones.  What he really wanted to do was shove Alf into the turkey and pelt him with Brussel sprouts.  Instead he glared at Alf and hissed, ‘Don’t touch me.’
          ‘How DARE you speak to me like that,’ squeaked Alf.  He glared at both Jake and Muriel before turning on his heel.  Grabbing Jemma by the wrist, he tried to drag her into the kitchen.
          ‘Stop it!’ Jemma cried, pulling away.
          ‘TO HELL WITH THE LOT OF YOU!’ roared Alf.  It was at that point that Laura wondered if Alf’s voice had finally broken.  Picking up a paperweight, Alf hurled it at the dining room door before stomping out into the cold afternoon air, slamming the door behind him.  There was the sound of an engine turning over, followed by an embarrassed silence.  Great-Aunty June was the first to break it.
          ‘As I was saying, Jock loves his balls.  And he’s certainly got more than that chap.’
          Nobody saw Alf for the rest of the day.  Which brings me to the moral of this tale.  You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. Which reminds me. 
What do you call an obnoxious reindeer?  RUDEolph…