Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Have a Very Merry...

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house
Every creature was stirring, well mostly the spouse.
The place had been hoovered and polished with care,
All ready for in-laws who soon would be there.

The children were bouncing around on their beds,
While sugar-plums sent them quite out of their heads.
The better half calmed them, while I had a flap,
Then we went to the shops, though we needed a nap

We de-iced the car, as the kids gave a mutter,
We prayed to the engine – it caught with a splutter.
Away to the market we flew like a flash
To wrestle the crowds for the last trolley dash

The sun o’er the breast of the new fallen snow
Shone straight in our eyes with a dazzling glow.
As we queued for the car park we needed a beer
But a space opened up and we all gave a cheer.

So the food for the courses was crossed off the list
By the end of it all we were feeling quite … annoyed
And I told No. 1, as her sister was sick,
“Yes, I’ve got a mince pie to leave out for St. Nick.

Got pudding, got crackers, got turkey and stuffing.”
We inched down the aisles, with much huffing and puffing,
To the front of the shop and the slow checkout crawl.
Pay cash away, cash away, cash away all.

As wet leaves that stick in the gutter-caught sludge,
We waited in traffic that just wouldn’t budge.
Once clear of the jams, home we finally flew
With a boot full of food and some drinky poos too.

And that afternoon, making good on our pledge,
We walked up the hill, with our girls, for a sledge.
They flew like the wind, over white frozen ground
And the dog had a turn, leaping on with a bound.

Snow clung to her fur from her head to her paws
And it flew from the snowballs she caught in her jaws.
Now home again, home again, now deck the halls
And hang up more lights and some bright shiny balls.

“You kids were a help, yes, you made it look merry,
Now do me a favour and go watch the telly.
I’ll be back in a sec, I’m just popping outside
For I’ve still more to do for this festive yuletide.”

I’ve pricked all my fingers while hanging the wreath
So I’m tying a knot with my chattering teeth.
I’m shivering and shaking; my legs are like jelly,
It must be the snow seeping into my welly.

I must wrap the pressies - that’s no bed of flowers
You think it takes minutes – it always takes hours.
The unfinished jobs now crowd into my head
And the thought of them all really fills me with dread.

When I think of the cost and the time and the work,
I must admit part of me feels like a jerk
And though I may be at the end of my wick
All of it’s worth it… for dear old St. Nick.

As I crawl into bed on the eve of the day
I know I’ll be listening for sounds of his sleigh
And I’ll smile like a child as I turn out the light.
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why does the Virgin Mary wear blue?

I am not a deeply religious person… but then again, I’m not shallowly religious either. However I do love a good Nativity. Whether you believe The Gospel as gospel or whether you believe all modern religions are piggybacking on the moment man wondered about tomorrow and thought that a bit of worship couldn’t go amiss, there is something tangibly good about seeing those innocent faces wobbling through their performance. True, they are mostly picking their nose and, if lucky, wiping it on the tea towel headdress, but if the hopes and fears of all the years meet anywhere… it’s there.

This was No.1 daughter’s second Nativity; No.2 has yet to tread the boards, or aisle. Last year No.1 was cast as a little star. We arrived at a politically stable time, not too early, not too late, to find the church packed. Squeezing in at the back we watched our little star walk down to her place by the Holy Family and stand on a chair, shining with the others. We could just see her head. And then we couldn’t – but we heard the thump as she turned into a falling star and hit the deck. Picked up, dusted off and replaced, she kept smiling – that’s my girl.

This year she progressed to an Angel. And I progressed to throwing arrival politics out of the window. When we got there, there were only six other people in the church. Having secured a clear camera shot from the second row, we settled in for the long wait.

Which gave me time to ruminate on the other aspects of Nativity politics. It begins with the casting – A dear friend also has two daughters. One has been cast as Mary, the other as the Innkeeper’s Wife. Which caused some tears. The Innkeepers Wife only heard ‘Innkeeper’ and was not best pleased at being cast as a man. After inquiries, order was restored. Keeping Mary in order would also have proved a challenge. Theirs is a large school. Necessitating in each class doing their own Nativity – that’s a lot of Marys to wrangle – “Could all the Marys stand by their own Joseph, Right! Have you got your Jesuses – Well where did you leave him. ?…OK Off we go … Stay together.”

Being in the sticks, No. 1’s school is quite small. Older kids do the readings; the younger ones get the costumes. With so few to control, they can afford a real Jesus. The tiny headline act arrived to ‘ahs’ and he and Mum took their place at the front.

In her welcoming remarks, the Headmistress apologised for the tardy start – they had been waiting for Jesus to arrive, he was late. For a moment I thought he had been couriered from the maternity ward before I realised she was talking about the traffic.

Jesus wasn’t last though. Frazzled parents had screamed in late, marched down to the front, looked at the reserved signs on the front pews and then ask who they were reserved for – er… not you. With a full house, one late arrival told the row in front that as the person they were saving the aisle seat for wasn’t there, she wanted to take it.
‘Sorry, she’ll be here in a minute, she’s helping the kids.’
‘Well could you all budge up?’
‘Er, yes, can you squeeze past?’
‘No… I want the aisle seat.’… A refusal often offends.

No doubt, like me, she had wanted a clear shot. Photography is also fraught with politics. Is it allowed? What are the current rules? Am I infringing on their human rights? Flash or no Flash? Do I lift the camera for a better angle, thus impeding the view for those behind? … I needn’t have been so perturbed. As the performance kicked off, paps on the red carpet couldn’t have created more of a barrage of flashes. One granddad kept standing up every time his sprog twitched to get that perfect picture. At one point he was upright during an entire reading – now there’s commitment.

Jesus had got peckish while Mary and Joseph were travelling to Bethlehem but luckily was burping by the time they reached the stable and so was ready for his big moment in the crib. Unfortunately his divinity didn’t stretch to working out how to keep his dummy in. It lay tantalisingly close to his cheek. As his cries grew louder, Joseph was persuaded to stop looking like the holy infant was about to explode and retrieve it for him. Joseph did sterling work; Mary regarded the baby as somebody else’s problem. In fairness, she had a point. Or perhaps she had postnatal depression – it would finally explain the colour of the robe.

As we all stood and sang ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘Hark the Herald’, I looked at the little faces suffused with joy, and couldn’t stop grinning myself. You know, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas – and when it comes to the politics… I couldn’t give a Figgy Pudding!

Good will to all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holidays are coming…

Nope they’re here.

According to the shops, Christmas starts the day after Halloween, or Thanksgiving, and ends when they take down the January sales signs and replace them with Valentines hearts and Cadburys Crème eggs.

According to one friend they start the moment she sees the Coke lorry advert on the telly.

When I was a kid we knew Christmas was coming when we’d see Harry get the juggling clubs out and start practising above the sofa. Soon afterwards that year's panto script would thump through the letterbox and I'd start running the lines with him… “Now I’m outside Peking’s walls, I think I’ll have a juggle with me balls”…
Ah happy days…

These days my Christmas panic sets in when NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) launches their Santa tracker. For those unaware, every year NORAD counts down to the big day. When Santa sets off from the North Pole they train their heat seeking radar onto Rudolph’s nose and post live updates of exactly when Santa Claus is coming to town so you can make sure you’re in bed. Why they do this is a story to melt the iciest heart.

In 1955 the Sears department store in Colorado ran an advert with a phone number for kids to call Santa. But, thanks to a misprint, when little Jimmy dialed up he didn’t get the man in red – he got the hotline of the Commander-in-Chief of CONAD, NORAD’s predecessor. When Colonel Harry Shoup answered the phone he asked his staff to check the Radar for Santa’s whereabouts. Santa was very pleased with their efforts, so the volunteers at NORAD have done it ever since. God bless ‘em, every one.

Their site also hosts one of the most addictive games online - Light up the Christmas tree. I dare you to play it just the once. I can’t, I got obsessed with it last year. I’m trying to resist as long as I can. Once I start, it means I’ll be ignoring the thousand other things I have to do.

Like thanking my editor for the Christmas party. A few days ago I tootled up to town for a spot of mingling with fellow Children’s authors, whose main advice was to avoid going onto to the pub after the party. Who knew they would be such hell raisers, mind you, as a breed they don’t get out much. I also finally managed to put a face to my editor’s name and voice and got to meet the illustrator of Dragon’s Dinner, Lynne Chapman. Both were charming. Unlike me. While chatting to a partygoer I asked what he did. Gesturing to his name badge he told me, in tones reserved for the terminally thick, “I’m a writer – My last book was a number one Darling!” Feeling like a number two, I got me coat.

Also on the to do list - aside from send all the cards, get all the presents, wrap all the presents, hide all the presents, do all the shopping, clean all the rooms, build all the beds for the descending hoards, get through the school nativity (twice), panto trip, craft morning, carol service, disco and fair – I also have to finish making princess dresses. No. 1 and No. 2 daughters like dressing up. But both are very, very particular. No. 1 wants to have copies of Disney character dresses that are not available in the shops – I know, I’ve looked. And No. 2 will not wear any of No.1’s old dresses. She will only wear the one dress that was specifically given to her last year and is now like a bandage. This explains why the dining room table is awash with pink satin and I’m having to beat back 15 meters of netting with a stick to get to the dress pattern…

All the time the kids chocolate advent calendars shave off the remaining days while the sugar makes them even more hyper… what was I thinking

I’m never going to get it all done in time

Oh yes you are

Oh no I’m not…. Ho, Ho, Ho.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It’s a Wonderful Life.

A few weeks ago my brother met a new woman.

He had met ‘M’ online and got chatting. Chatting led to calling and calling led to meeting. Which, naturally, led to ribbing by me. I shouldn’t… he’s an easy target. Plays it very close to the chest. So I was amazed when he admitted to me that he liked ‘M’ very, very much. “We click,” he said. This, for the brother, was like admitting he had launched a thousand ships and called in the ground workers for the Taj Mahal.

Oh dear… seeing him in free fall made me open the parachute of ‘be careful, take it slow, don’t get hurt.’ But he was like a teenager again. With all that that entails. When not being critical in front of the mirror he was on the phone ‘No, you hang up first… I can’t…No, you… all right we’ll do it together, 1,2,3…’ Click.
The brief moments I saw him, he was either euphoric or sulkily monosyllabic - counting down the hours until he would speak to ‘M’ again.

The weekend before last, he stayed at M’s and met her family - her kids, her sister, her sister’s kids, and her parents. It went well. Very well. M’s father is a train and canal barge buff and has converted the attic to house his collection of models. The bro mentioned that his father had worked on a barge once.
“Oh really?”
“Well yes…sort of…mumble…actor…mumble…film ‘The Bargee’… mumble…”
It turns out ‘The Bargee’ is M’s dad’s favourite film. It’s a small world. M’s dad gave the bro a framed print of a barge on a stretch of the canal where ‘The Bargee’ was filmed. What a nice bloke.

What a nice weekend. On Monday, he and M chatted about how well it had gone. On Tuesday he was a bit down, M couldn’t talk that night, she was busy, and it seemed a long time till they would meet up again. On Wednesday they spoke briefly in the evening before she had to pop out. On Thursday morning M’s sister called him. M had been killed in a car crash the previous night. She didn’t give details - she could hardly speak.

Life has no business behaving like a film script.

And I have no business blogging about all this – or so I thought. I mentioned to the brother that I was trying to come up with something to post but all I could think about was the accident. “Write about it,” he said, “why not?”

So why not…

Why not…what if… perhaps… Not good words to go near at a time like this.

What if, in another dimension, M hadn’t got in the car that night? She and the bro spent many happy years together and died in a yachting accident off the Seychelles in 2049.

Perhaps, in another, they had one more weekend together, got into a fight about which end of the toothpaste to squeeze, went off in a huff, didn’t return each other’s calls and never met again.

But in this dimension M died. In this one her memory is already climbing onto a perfect pedestal. In this one the bro is having to come up with reasons to get his legs over the sides of the bed in the morning.

Selfishly, as M’s poor family try and comprehend what’s happened, I’m including the fact that my brother wasn’t with her and still has mornings into my list of counted blessings.

If / When the bro next takes tentative steps travelling down the road to romance, I will not counsel caution. It will be full speed ahead on his journey.

Safe journey, M…

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I’m an addict.

I had an enabler. A friend introduced me to a game on Facebook a few weeks ago. It’s called Farmville – a virtual smallholding where you grow crops, raise animals but don’t have to worry about fluctuating market forces or mucking out.

To progress in the game you need virtual neighbours. Friends on facebook who also play and have farms that you can visit. The more neighbours you have the more of the game is unlocked and the more chance you have of collecting seasonally themed animals and decorations – with Thanksgiving approaching harvest tables and turkeys are now in vogue.

Not having many friends that played the game I went shopping for some - People from all over the world who similarly wanted neighbours and posted their desire on a forum.

I now have 47 Rent-a-Friends and the number is growing daily as more Farmville addicts join in.

But Farmville is not my addiction. The Rent-a-Friends are.

Like all friends on facebook, they post the humdrum daily activities of their lives and I have become enthralled as the cycle of existence scrolls before my eyes.

Mary, from Vancouver, posts the blobby scanned image of a three-month-old foetus – her grandchild. I think she’s looking forward to it, underneath the image she’s posted a due date countdown ticker - no pressure then - she’s probably leafing through the Mothercare catalogue right now. I wish the blob a safe arrival in mid May 2010.

Jack, who is 13 and from Utah, informs us that all may add him to a popular messaging service ‘if ur not gay’. All, that is, apart from one Jess who is apparently a … well, let’s say that Jess will not be winning Mormon of the year.

Jo in Melbourne needs help with a 1200 words humanities essay.

Dee, in Hong Kong, repeatedly posts that he is single. I’m not too sure if he wants to change that status or is just reaffirming a life choice. I’m wondering how I can politely ascertain his orientation – not for Jack’s benefit but, you never know, another rent-a-friend might post they are looking for Mr. Right and then I can introduce them… now that would be playing.

Melissa is back from her Honeymoon and is wondering if it is possible to like, ya know, actually die from boredom…

Danni is a Goth from Holland. Although her picture screams of someone you would not care to meet in a dark alley, she daily posts the latest cute photos of her baby girl – the child is called Kim but must be a girl surely… either that or every snap was taken after a Pepto Bismol explosion…

Marjorie is hoping the authorities will sign off on her new house in Texas before Christmas. From her tone I certainly hope they do. Marjorie often talks about her hobbies of hunting and quilting and so could get rid of the Building Inspector’s body with ease…

Andy wants to jack in his job. But can’t. He needs it to make the payments on a new small apartment – which he also hates, but it’s all he could afford after the divorce…

Mike, from Silver Spring MD, has a brother serving with the US Military overseas. Mike has just returned from a midnight MRI scan on his brain – he informs that he does indeed have one, yok yok, but not what was he scanned for…

Alison, in Florida, tells that her friend, Rick, was struck by a hit and run driver on a road just outside of Apopka. The driver, a woman, was seen praying over his body for a time before being picked up by someone in a green truck and leaving the scene. Rick died before his wife and young son made it to the hospital. Orange County Police are searching for the driver…

Nicola in Lancashire is trying to get pregnant…

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Macbeth. Act V, Scene 1- Dunsinane, a room in the castle.

Enter Lady Macbeth and waiting gentle woman:-

Lady M: Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!

Gen: I’ll put a girdle round about thy spot in forty minutes with new Whizzo
stain remover…

In advertland this would happen. In advertland you only need the faintest lip tremble and disappointed sigh at the stubborn stain before a perky expert comes bouncing, uninvited, into your house, to show you how to shift dried in Duncan.

I tried it once - stood in front of the washing machine looking desperate and soiled and … nothing happened. No perky expert for me. Still, her failure to show meant I didn’t have to put up with her pointing out how suspiciously grey my whites were – as grey as if an underpaid prop person had spent half the night grubbing them up.

But now and again, when you are least prepared for it, you can find yourself in advertland.

It happened to me yesterday. Now that Gargantuan Puppy has had her final shots she is safe to take out for walks. So a walk she would have. The better half got himself and the kids togged up and all were braced for a hike. As the three of them got dragged up the path by the straining puppy they looked for all the world as if they had just stepped out of a picture on the back of a hearty cereal box.

It was a perfect image. One that I know will be imprinted on my brain for life. We all carry those brain pictures, the moments that stay with you.
Some are universal - the view from your childhood bed.
Some you can see coming a mile off and so rehearse – births, weddings, funerals etc. Some creep up on you unexpectedly – Yesterday’s was one of those. Another was seeing the finished genderless room that was waiting for the arrival of No. 1 daughter. I had insisted to the better half that IT MUST BE PERFECT, as I foolishly thought it would be the last time the room ever was. No. 2’s room, despite her being 2 years old, is still in mid transition from ‘spare’ room to ‘her’ room and is full to the gunwales with outgrown baby equipment and bags of No.1’s old clothes. – yet both rooms are perfect – when No. 1 and 2 are there.

No. 1 daughter has a season ticket to advertland. On the way to school the other day she pointed to a bug on the windscreen that looked suspiciously like a chip and informed the better half that he’d better contact Autoglass. If I could film the school syllabus and put it on during the advert break we could have a brain surgeon on our hands.

Talking of surgery. As I watched my perfect cereal box family disappearing down the path the phone went. A relative was to have an emergency operation. Minor, thankfully, and all is well… still….makes you think…

But not for very long.

A minute after I put the phone down the door banged. Cereal family were back – it had started to rain.

Right-o get the playdough out.

And then put it back again.

Playdough has now been banned for the foreseeable future. No. 2 daughter fed it to Gargantuan Puppy. GP then upchucked it all over the floor.

No 1 daughter paused from creating her entry to next years Turner Prize to inspect the puppy’s own artwork. Contemplating the multi hued steaming pile with a critical eye she announced that what it needed was Cillit Bang.

The Tate’s loss was the bin’s gain and while clearing it up one of those daft pre Christmas perfume adverts came on the telly.

Even with my imagination firing on all cylinders, I doubt I will ever find myself prancing down 5th Ave / Champs-Élysées, lolling about in the surf with dubious escort or pouting languidly at the camera while grainy black and white images, a snappy soundtrack and some whispered French phrases conveys how marvellous life is on planet pong.

There should be a more realistic statement odour available.

Hang on … I can see a gap in the market here.

BREAKING NEWS… I would like to announce the launch of my own designer perfume…

Eau de Playdough - un parfam de puppy gargantuan.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Der’s a rat on me path - what am I gonna do?

Well chuck it in the hedge for a start. Oh the joys of living in the country.

Mind you, they say that in London you are only ever 20feet from a rat. Chucking in the hedge there probably wouldn’t go down too well with the neighbours or ’elf and safety.

The rodent in question is a gift from the kitties, Those who have dipped a toe in previous blogs will have noted how we can never take just the one pet. The cats were the same - Went for one, came back with two.

The two in question were a Persian looking pure white fluff explosion and her kitten. Cats Protection told us that they had never been out of the flat they had been rescued from. Which, considering the presence of the kitten, was a miracle.

We took the immaculate cat and offspring home – they were perfect for wearing diamante collars while I sinisterly stroked them, hatching my evil plans for world domination.
I never did get round to ransoming the West with stolen Nukes – I was too busy bleeding. To stroke our cats you either need gauntlets, a cupboard full of elastoplast, or ninja reflexes training.

I can’t really take umbrage. The countryside round here was all too much for them. Within weeks of being in the great outdoors they had turned from house cats into feral beasts that wreaked an apocalypse on the surrounding area. Bringing down anything too small, too dumb or too slow to get out of the way – Darwin in action.

After their usual summer progress of only coming back to the house to gift us those small organs they either find especially choice, or more likely unpalatable, they were slinking in regularly. Snoring in corners, as the as days grew short and al fresco pickings grew thin. They would only wake in the evening for dinner and to keep claws in readiness for next spring by sinking them into our thighs – Cheers.

That was before the rumble. A few nights ago I was musing at the pc when the screams started underneath the window. By the time I got outside it was all over. Immaculate powered past me, shot through the door and was found in her preferred place on top of any research papers in the study. This is not normally a problem. Normally in a fight she is the winner. Pausing to wipe the blood off precious newspaper cuttings I inspected the damage.

There was blood on her lip from an impressive puncture wound and revenge in her eyes from losing - Given the mortal remains discovered earlier on the path I would say she has wreaked it.

Having been victorious in the rematch and unified the local belts she wrowled for us to inspect her victim. It was a whopper. As the better half performed the undertaking duties he pronounced it a ‘Queen Rat’ – All these years and two kids later, who knew he was an expert?

No wonder the cat has been walking around with an air of constipated smug satisfaction – she brought down the Queen, no less, and has thus been ennobled and enlivened to take on Gargantuan Puppy. They are now getting along like a house on fire – destruction, screaming, panic.

One of our houseguests this Christmas will be bringing a Pug called Simon to the mix.

Ding Dong merrily on high….

Monday, November 9, 2009

Oh …to be in England

We are back. Any doubts that we were on the right plane were banished by the sight of the rain beading down the windows as we shimmied in for landing.

Pausing to rearrange No.2 daughter on the long walk through Gatwick, I watched it sheeting down the glass panels and dancing on the runway. It was sorely tempting to go straight to the ticket desk and get on the turnaround flight. But no, there are many, many years of school ahead before being able to do a Shirley Valentine.

Besides, 30 minutes later I was too knackered from carrying No.2 to care. For those sans sprogs, on the way out you can trap the child in the buggy right up to the aircraft door. Your buggy is then whisked away to the bowels of the plane to magically reappear on the foreign gangway as you disembark. Champion. Strap in kid and off you go. Not so when returning to London Gatwick. It doesn’t magically reappear. You have to lug the kid a mile and a half to Baggage Reclaim before you get the buggy back. When we left the plane No. 2 was at eye level and I was 5’ 6”, when we got to the buggy I was 5’ 4” and wearing her as a bum bag.

Despite having stopped at every loo, again, - and waited long enough to visibly age while creeping through Passport Control - the crowd of hares from our Malaga plane were still waiting for the bags to appear by the time we tortoises trailed in. So I had a chance, in between changing No. 2’s nappy (who had chosen the very moment I was standing guard on the hand luggage to fill her pants), to eye up the passengers.

Most intriguing were the couple who had been in the row ahead. I was fishing something out of a bag when they had taken their seats so hadn’t seen their faces. Just after sitting down the man had said, loud enough for my benefit, “Well if it starts to kick the seat, complain to its mother. Do you want to swap with me?”
To which the woman had replied, “No – I want the window. Why do I always get the ****** kids?”… Ah, happy days.

I took care to make sure ‘it’ didn’t touch the woman’s seat back. Which was a bit of a challenge, as she had reclined it and then kept throwing herself back into it in rage at the incessant screams of another child in front of her.

This gave me an occasional glimpse of the woman I hope karma will one day bless with colicky triplets. She had the high maintenance look - all skin-tight leather jacket, jeans and knee boots - so beloved in Puerto Banus, Marbella and, of course, Soho. Tossing her long blondish hair she occasionally rummaged with perfectly painted nails into the depths of a Louis Vuitton bag. Definitely one, probably two were fake. I’m not well up on LV to known if it too was a fraud. (They’re just not my bag! – thank you – I’m here all week.)

But fake is not a problem on the Costa. As you leave Malaga airport you are greeted with a huge billboard advertising bust enhancements. One can have one’s pillows re-stuffed and fluffed and still get change out of 4000 euros to afford the requisite new underwear/scaffold. Plastic surgery is so ‘in’ that a very pleasant afternoon may be spent marvelling at the facial alterations and wondering where all the spare skin goes.

First prize went to a woman who was wearing every possible combination of animal print over a suspiciously pert chassis totally at odds with a face that had that disturbingly melted look of those who have OD’ed on Botox, fillers and desperation. Her forehead said twenty; her eyes said seventy and her hands said Tutankhamun. Wearing enough gold chain to moor the Titanic and make up that would be over the top for a drag queen she teetered along clinging to the husbands arm. The husband one almost didn’t notice. But he was making an effort – atop lemon slacks, a lavender silk shirt was trying, unsuccessfully, to hold in his impressive gut and over this ensemble he had casually thrown round his shoulders a red leather jacket. What was not so casual was the fact he had the top button done up – the Costa’s own caped crinkly. To be fair I don’t know if he was crinkly, I didn’t make it to his face before my brain shut down.

They wanted to be looked at and we obliged, a good time was had by all - Which is more than can be said of a friend who had been whisked away to a five star resort in Mauritius for a half term birthday treat.

After circling the airport for an eternity she landed and immediately went down with flu. Still she wouldn’t have wanted to go outside – it was raining. It rained all week, which with two kids and a workaholic husband must have taken the shine off some of those five stars. Still, you have to laugh and she did – amusingly updating her facebook page with the latest typhoon warning while resting her broken toe – another of the week’s little gems
Her last update informed that the butler was packing for them and frankly, why not? Although it did make me a tad nervous on her behalf…
“Excuse me madam, did you pack these bags yourself.”
“No…the butler did it.”
“Ah…if you’d just step this way…”

While it’s always fun to be able to sound like you’re in an Agatha Christie novel it’s not worth a cavity search.

Back in Gatwick Baggage Reclaim, I finally got a good look at skin-tight woman. After directing her companion to add a final bag to the wobbling pile on their trolley she turned and sashayed past me in her 4” heels. Fantasy was sadly let down by reality. Her attitude and accoutrements had set me up to be green with envy at her ravishing beauty but underneath the glamour of dye, paint, false eyelashes and pout she was disappointingly plain – OK, she was munted. But good luck to her. Life may have given her carpet slippers but she put them in a Manolo Blahnik box.

I, myself, have taken to wearing wellies, my slippers having been destroyed by the Gargantuan Puppy. GP has doubled in size and weight during our week’s absence and is taking a delight in savaging the dirty washing stooks in the kitchen.

As I salvage yet another sock from her needle jaws I click my wellied heels three times and whisper ‘There’s no place like home…there’s no place like home’

And as if by magic, I’m there.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I am blogging on the terrace, darlings… Ooo, get me.

I remember the early days online when there weren’t many of us and the comp made a disconcerting ‘a-wee-a-wee-a-wee-dit-dit-dit’ sound while gearing up to connect you to the rest of the planet. A connection that would mysteriously disappear every night at midnight – You shall go to the ball, PC user, but on the stroke of twelve thy modem shall turn into a pumpkin and get hurled through the window – or you could always re-connect.

Not anymore. Here I am on the terrace of the in-laws pad in Spain pontificating wirelessly - On a pre-shrunk laptop or ‘netbook’ so the Father-in-Law informs me. When it comes to technology, F-in-L has been there, got the T-shirt and, as a recently retired Electrical Engineer, can also tell you how much power the factory used in making it.

PCs to him are a tool, a machine, a feat of engineering to be improved and customized and, of course, explained – to me. The man’s on a hiding to nothing. For me PCs, like the TV and the phone, will always be a magic box. He plugs away though, bless him, even though each time he pauses for breath after uttering the words “Well, you see, Su…” I’ve already glazed over.

I rather wish I could glaze over the memory of the journey out here. I shouldn’t complain, it was gratis – courtesy of the airmiles, we splurged them all on a half term getaway. When the alarm went off at 3 in the morning the mantra started - “It’ doesn’t matter, it’s on the airmiles.” It continued on the road to the airport. We got flashed by a speed camera – Never mind, slow down and anyway, it’s on the airmiles. When No. 1 daughter announced she was feeling strange, but definitely not sick and then proceeded to chunder all over the back of the car – Keep smiling and pass us another wet wipe, it’s on the airmiles. When we arrived and had to rummage through the luggage for a change of clothes, dressing the shivering child in a pre dawn lay-by – Yes, I know your lips are blue but hey, it’s on the airmiles.

As all of the above, and the subsequent clean up, had made time a bit tight for getting through security – (yes I do have the right sized clear plastic bag, thank you, and I have remembered to wear good socks as I’ll be walking through the metal detector in them while holding up my de-belted jeans) along with having to stop at every toilet between car and plane, our collective bum had just kissed the seats at the gate when the call went out for all those with children, or those who need extra time to get to their seats, or those who are terminally pushy to start boarding.

The better half sat behind with No. 2 daughter – it being the first time she has flown with her own seat and not trapped on the lap she, naturally, was having no truck with staying in said seat for takeoff and loudly informed the rest of the plane of her displeasure. Here have a dummy, it’s on the airmiles. Soon No. 2 settled down and looked out of the window as the better half chatted in cultured tones to the dapper ex wing commander who had drawn the aisle seat next to him.

There was no cultured conversation one row ahead. Not only was there no time, as I had to act as Entertainments Officer to No. 1 daughter, but there was also no opportunity - as my aisle companion immediately dropped into a coma. His ample frame slowly oozed over the thin red line of the seat divide into my sovereign territory. He would lift his frame to the side occasionally, but only to allow an easier escape route for his fulsome flatulence - OK my mascara’s running from the fumes, but it’s on the airmiles. I had to wake him at one point, not because of the smell - I am a mother after all - but because No.1 had to go for a No. 1, again. He hurumphed slightly as we squeezed past to join the loo queue but once we’d returned he quickly settled back into catching flies and depressurizing his fuselage.

Landed, taxied, and watched the overhead lockers doing the clam fandango as passengers rushed to get bags out and stand hunched over, avoiding one another’s gaze as the plane finally docked and they opened the door. Being at the back afforded a good view of the ritual. It also meant we were last off. But then with kids – we’re always last off. We were last to Passport control. We were last to Baggage Reclaim. We were last to the first foreign loo. Where the better half discovered that the Gents had a lovely view of the people getting their luggage and they, therefore, had a lovely view of him. When he joined us at our carousel and saw our bags circling alone like the suspicious sushi that nobody wants he commented “Oh look, ours are off first.” Deary, deary me.

Meet and greet in-laws, get back to their pad, present Mother-in-Law with bag full of chunder clothes. Nothing could crack the M-in-L’s smile, it is for the granddaughters. After her two boys the late injection of pink is a secret guilty pleasure. Before the arrival of No. 1, M-in-L would know exactly what F-in-L required at all times and have produced it before he asked for it. As she sat cradling the newborn, F-in-L asked for something, he was curtly informed, “Oh, I don’t know - go and find it yourself.” The world had turned.

The world of international travel is not all jet set glamour, you know – I’ve brought the biography on a memory stick so I can get some work done and I have every good intention of cracking the whip while not building the Taj Mahal out of sand. I expect those good intentions will see me firmly on the road to hell. If they do I must remember to pack more successfully.

The last time we came to Spain I spent the week in jeans and the one jumper I had brought with me. I even went out and bought a coat. This time I was ready for the nip in the air and as the terrace thermometer tips 29, think wistfully of the collection of shorts and bikinis still in the drawer at home.

That’s if the new puppy hasn’t eaten them. She’s had a go at everything else, so my brother informs me. The brother is in residence having kindly given up his life for a week to look after ours. Every morning he comes down to turbo tail wagging and Lake Piddle.

The brother is another one who delights in taking things apart and then tries to explain how they work. By the time we get back he’ll probably be halfway through re-wiring the house. I do hope he isn’t standing in Lake Piddle when he throws the switch.

If the South East Electricity Grid goes out you’ll know who to blame……

Yes, that’s right - Airmiles.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Me and You and a Dog Named…..err

What’s in a name? Well quite a lot as it turns out. For, as a family, we have been trying to name the new arrival.

A few days ago we went to look at, I repeat - LOOK AT - a litter of Golden Doodles. Although they do sound like a 60s Motown group, Golden Doodles are a Golden Retriever / Poodle cross. Like a Labradoodle but even more ditzy, if that were possible.

I have never been a fan of viewing the litter – How do you only take one?

When I was a girl, Harry was working on a job and while off set got chatting to the Animal Wrangler. She had a donkey that needed a good home. Harry rang my mother, Maureen – “Yes, that’s fine, we’ll have it.” she said.
Five minutes later he rang back “Err, the donkey’s got a friend.”
“No problem.”
And five minutes after that, “And the friend’s got a foal.”
“So it’s just the three then?”
There were originally 4. They were in a sorry state when rescued and so had been named Near, Miss, Narrow and Squeak – but Miss hadn’t made it, she was too far-gone. After a career in show business (that saw Near land a pivotal supporting role in a film about Jesus), ours seemed an appropriate place for their retirement.

17 years ago - the last time I was shopping for a puppy - We were presented with the two remaining girls of the litter and asked to choose which one - “Wadda ya mean, which one?” Yet again, like the Rangers, we couldn’t leave anyone behind. So we took them both, which meant that while they always had each other we never really had them.

Mindful of all the above, we girded our loins and approached the Doodle litter with full emotional armour in place.

Well… I did. The Better Half has never had a dog of his own, by dint of having a brother with rampant asthma. He has taken care of dogs - he inherited my late lamented two. But while I could only see the old girls for the bundles of fluff they had once been, he, understandably, could only see them as the flatulent dust clouds they had become. They were also unbelievable toxic to the asthmatic brother who has spent many a Christmas wheezing outside, only coming in for turkey and to retighten his bronchi.

As Doodles have a reputation for being slightly more allergy friendly than most breeds you can see why we were interested.
‘Interested’ is not a word I would have used to describe the better half after seeing the litter - ‘drooling’ is more like it. Puppy power strikes again.

There were 7 puppies in all and we literally had the pick of the litter. There were 3 big cream coloured boys, doing what boy dogs do best, three cream girls all of whom were breaking the cute-o-meter and then, giving off the aura of last puppy in the shop, was one black fur ball. Timid, shy and set apart from the others, so that she wouldn’t be set on as the odd one out, she was a natural born pessimist – I knew which my money was on. The Better Half’s eyes kept swiveling back to this one pup that wasn’t trying to gnaw him. We arranged to return with daughters in tow the next day. Taking with us a deposit, just in case – yeah, right.

No. 1 daughter also wanted the black one. It was hard to say what No. 2’s preference was, as she spent all her time saying either “Was-sat?” or “Dog” to anything that wagged.

If we wanted, we could take the puppy then and there. Right, everybody in the car, find the nearest pet shop and load the boot with everything it could ever possibly need.

When we returned to pick up the pooch the better half went in to collect her. As he approached she was the only one who barked in recognition. Ah… kismet.

All we have to do now is name her.

Answers on a postcard please.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Who Shall I Say is Calling?"

I am waiting to dial…. I am about to interview an actress that worked with Harry back in the day – I’ve done a fair bit of that over the last year.

I’m surprised at how many people I’ve managed to track down. When I started the research I thought that the pool of those that had not only known Harry but, more impressively, were still alive with a functioning memory would be sadly shallow. I was wrong; I even found his school friends from the thirties.

To track down the more elusive I have rivalled Dick Tracy, others have been a lot easier. If they are actors, and still working, then they advertise the fact with ‘Spotlight’- the casting directory. No theatrical office used to be complete without a set of these huge tomes that contain the photo, vital statistics and agent details of every luvvie looking for work. Every year the tomes grow even larger as drama school graduates, ink still drying on the emoting diplomas, swell the ranks. By 2020, to house a real set of Spotlight, casting directors will need to move offices to the basement. Good job they’re online then. After a few clicks you can have the phone number of the chosen quarry’s management.

Then, phone voice at the ready, make the call. Sometimes you get the agents themselves, especially if they are a small operation, mostly you get reception. Then, don’t ask for the agent, ask for their assistant, as all good supplicants should. Agent’s assistants are a breed with no last names. They are always “Sara at Bloggs Management” or similar. I have never had one volunteer a surname, and when you ask for it they pause, puzzled - vocally caught in the headlights for a moment, before the brain kicks in. When, having learned the ropes and served their time, they progress to being agents in their own right, one hopes there is a naming ceremony –they could be crowned with a phone headset, have Champagne broken over the bows of their office chairs and be serenely launched down Shaftesbury Ave.

They have all, assistants and agents, been exceptionally helpful - even the top bananas in La La Land. Assistants in Hollywood (Hooray for it I say) are also invariably mono-monikered. Though when you work for people with names like Bubba Crudstuckowitz and Tiff Pecksmacker, admitting to the name of Dave Smith would, let’s face it, be a bit of a let down.

The level of helpfulness has mirrored the level of clout. The biggest Hollywood agency I contacted were so friendly that it made the English in me suspect them of being either sarcastic or medicated. But no, it was just their way. It was also their way, within half an hour of me speaking to them, to have spoken to their client and emailed me his home number and a mutually convenient time to call…..

Oh yes… That reminds me… Time to call.

Telephone voice…. Check.
Dictaphone………. Check
Number………...… Check

Now, what was it again? ….. Ahem ….. “Have a Nice Day!”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book Week – in a World Gone Mad

I would hereby like to apologise to anyone who came within orbit during the final countdown to my author visit at No. 1 daughter’s school. The night before D-Day I went to bed looking like a stewardess about to ask, “Does anybody know how to fly a plane?”

But bright was the morn and stoic my heart as, shunning the last meal and blindfold, I strode forth to meet my fate and the teacher who had talked me into it in the first place – she wasn’t there. She had called in sick. Which, incidentally, was what I was considering doing 12 hrs earlier.

Flying solo then, myself and the better half, who was acting as prop man, were ushered into the first class, Years 1 and 2 – the daughter’s. I started by reading Dragon’s Dinner, getting the kids to join in – loudly. Then I asked whether they’d like to do some colouring in of pictures of the dragon that we’d brought along – “Yes”, they cried – “Oh?” said their teacher, “Well we were planning to do some writing.” – whoops… clang.
“No, no, that’ll be fine,” she continued.
After the colouring there was time for a couple more dragon stories before it was off to the next class. I think it had gone well. The daughter clung, limpet like, to my leg as I tried to leave peppering my knee with kisses and the teacher ‘mentioned’ that she also taught at another school…..

Next up were the tiny tots, Reception – slightly freaked out by the lack of their ‘called in sick’ teacher, they fixed their saucer eyes, Midwich like, onto my every move as I gingerly picked my way through the ranks. They soon loosened up and we were having a ball – only slightly interrupted by the surprise appearance of the local newspaper to get a photo of the event – another bone I shall be picking with ‘sick note’. You could have warned me darling… Had I known, I would have put on full make up, which, for photo purposes, involves me trowelling the slap onto the table and then rolling my face in it finger print style - now that’s what I call full coverage.

The tots I could cope with, I have a couple of my own… but next up was Years 3 and 4…. Gulp. Too cool for picture books, too young for a lecture on how one comes about. Not a bit of it. They were surprisingly attentive, made up some rather good rhymes, with a little prompting to get them going, and asked lots of pertinent questions. I was disappointed when the time was up as there was so much more I wanted to cover.
Slightly dissatisfied, I spent the lunch break watching the daughter and posse nearly garrotte each other with skipping ropes as footballs thumped merrily on the reinforced windows. All the time wondering how I could improve for the upcoming top two years class and thus, finally, unclench.

Well, I had thought that these guys would be the toughest crowd, wrong again. Their rhyming and storyboarding was wonderful, funny and inventive - especially from the girls – no surprises there. But what was surprising was one particular boy. The kind of kid you just know would be able to describe, from memory, the view out of the classroom window he’s stared at it so much. We went from “I can’t think of anything” and “I can’t draw” and “I can’t rhyme” to “What about that?” and “Could you do this?” and, finally, “I’ve done this”. His might not have been the best but, by eck, I will remember his grin once he’d done it. It near brought a tear to my eye; mind you, it could have been the relief.

At the end of the allotted time I asked if I should go, “Stay as long as you want.” said the teacher – you betcha!

Suitably buzzing, I bowed out just before afternoon break and hung in the playground waiting for No. 1 to come out – she didn’t. I found her eventually still in her classroom, where she and a couple of the others had given up break time to finish their colouring in, (she can be anal like that, I blame the parents). The finished pictures were being stuck into their writing books to go alongside their own little story about the dragon. Her teacher commented, “They’ve all been at it, it’s the most I’ve ever seen them write.”

Really ….I don’t know what you were all so nervous and worried about …I always knew it would be fine.

Music swells… Plucky stewardess lands 747… Credits roll.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

9, 11, 12, 10

New Yorkers say that the shortest period of time is the millisecond between the lights turning green and the cab behind you honking its horn. Which says a lot about New Yorkers.

Very soon, the shortest period of time will be the nanosecond between the toy advert coming on and your kid informing you they want it for Christmas. I think it’s started already.

By comparison, you could get a bus through the gap that occurs between the elation of finishing a chapter and the sobering realisation that it’s time to start another.

I have finished Chapter 10. Means nothing to you I know, but Chap. 10 starts with Harry leaving Theatre Workshop and ends six years later with him landing Steptoe.
Yeah, so?

Well, I had already completed 11 and 12, two chapters that deal with the series, its impact and the rise to fame etc. etc. while referring back to chapter 10, the one I hadn’t written yet.

So when I came to write 10, I had to make sure to put in all the bits I was going to have, and in fact had, referred back to in 11, and 12. You see?
O.K. So why not write 10 first?

Ah. Now we come to the Book Proposal. In order to get publishers to take on your grand opus you must sell the idea, and of course yourself, in a book proposal. A document which summarises the whole thing and says why you are the 'bestest' person to do it. It’s as attractive as ‘working the room’, something, if you are like me, only to be comfortably undertaken while holding a tray of canapés and wearing a pinny.

Naturally no book proposal about Harry would be complete without a chapter on Steptoe. So in order to get it out there, I skipped from his last production with Theatre Workshop, at the end of Chapter 9, to introducing Ray Galton and Alan Simpson at the opening of Chapter 11.

On a roll, I then went onto 12. All the time 10 was lurking in the corner – giving off the aura of unopened homework on the last day of the summer holidays.

So, I have finished Chapter 10. Hooray, hooray – break out the chocolate….
Oh yes …..
Roll on Christmas… now what was it they wanted?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chasing Butterflies

I have been chasing butterflies. I would like to report this has been in a wildflower meadow, with me running in slow motion, clad in a floaty Laura Ashley number - all of it promising a soft focused assignation with a Cadbury’s flake. Sadly this is not the case. The adventure has taken place in the study. Although that conjures images of Colonel Mustard and the revolver, in reality our study is a former old washhouse. The only mystery it contains is the better half’s filing system, though it is one that would rival the Vatican’s – I expect Dan Brown daily.

The butterfly in question, a ‘Common Orange Twerp’ if I’m not mistaken, flew into the study window. It took me 10 minutes to get it back out. All of that only promised a cold cup of tea.

There is a blind on this window. It is usually down leaving a very small gap at the bottom. Given the size of this gap I am constantly amazed at how many bugs come in here. They have the entire planet to frolic in and yet make a bee-line (it’s the way I tell ‘em) for that one gap.

In the way that princes dream of being butterflies do butterflies dream of being space shuttle pilots, practising their narrow re-entry on my window? Still, butterflies are better than demented Daddy-Long-Legs, who are now in season. They, in turn, are better than wasps. We had a nest in the roof this summer. Wasps were dropping down through the light fitting and aertex ceiling. The desk became a lucky dip of stings. The better half got togged up in no. 1 daughter’s dressing up veil and armed with wasp powder did the deed. 5 minutes later the ceiling was thrumming with the sound of hundreds of irate wasps and a few hours later it looked like Thermopylae.

They got their revenge. I knelt on one. Over the next few days the swelling slipped slowly down my calf like an overstretched legwarmer. I was looking forward to a big toe the size of a grapefruit. But when I remembered to look, like a lot of things, it wasn’t there any more.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

I have been nobbled.

My daughter’s teacher has asked me to come in for Book Week and read Dragon’s Dinner to Reception and year 1. And then entertain them for half an hour. - Great, looking forward to it.
And then I could stay on and entertain the elder kids, perhaps a rhyming workshop? - Okey dokey
Oh yes, and then for the oldest children, creative writing with a quick look at how to get published – Err… Right.

I have come over all nervous at the prospect. Partly because it will be my first author visit, partly because while chatting to the teacher I was in her domain, sitting on a tiny chair, wearing my knees as earrings. There is something about teachers. In the way that there is something about policemen – they make you guilty – not of anything in particular, it’s just general guilt. Teachers are full of ‘must try harder’, ‘see me later’ and, of course, ... expectation.

I am under a burden of expectation. The daughter, not known for being backwards in coming forwards, has 'bigged' me up all over the playground. She is five. If I don’t come through, I know she will be as refreshingly honest as a bucket of ice…

The illustrator of Dragon’s Dinner, Lynne Chapman, is an old hand at such events. She is booked so regularly I’m amazed she has time to put her smock on. She has also withstood my interrogations as to her technique with patience and kindness. Though sadly I’m not quite up to creating fantastical characters on a flip chart, more’s the pity, for it has to be more dynamic than seeing me at work. Type - screen - tea - type - window - type - kill fly - stare - type - cold tea - stretch - type - shout “I’ll be there in a minute, I just want to get this down” - type…

In preparation for the big day I went to see how the big guns do it. Lauren Child was giving a talk at a local Book Fair. If you went too and noticed someone with a faint air of panic, feverishly scribbling notes, it was me.

Even Lauren had to start somewhere, but at the moment I’m just looking forward to an event where I do not share DNA with the audience.

Fingers crossed.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Poets and Potties

One blog in and I’m already a liar.

I am a published author. I even went down to a bookshop when Dragon’s Dinner came out last month for the obligatory photo of me next to my actual book in an actual shop. The owners were very sweet, and fussed embarrassingly.

Perhaps it slipped my mind as it’s been so long since Dragon’s got the go ahead. Hodder said yes four years ago. Surprisingly, this is not an unusually long time.

Or perhaps it’s the romantic in me. ‘Unpublished author’ brings forth images of Continental garrets where consumptive poets gently hack up over the parchment. As a rule I tend to only hack up whatever cold No. 2 daughter has brought home from nursery.

Aside from being a place where the offspring can expand her horizons and learn just how far she can push her luck, the nursery is a petri dish of infections. Toughening the character and the immune system at the same time – a full service. Second day back her nose was running like a tap and shows no sign of giving up – much like her stubbornness. This week her horizon has been expanded to the potty. Once enthroned she did not perform, oh no, she held on until a window of opportunity presented itself. Back on her feet, she calculated a beautiful trajectory and peed precisely on the teacher’s foot. No ‘Brick in the Wall’ for this one.

We’re so proud.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an unpublished author in possession of a large manuscript must be in need of a blog.
One needs to be - a) Opinionated and b) able to use the Spallchucker.....Sweet.

The manuscript in question is not a children's book. It's the biography of my father, Harry H. Corbett. I have been researching/writing it for about 18 months now. People who know what I'm working on comment "That must be interesting etc, etc" and "So, how's it going?" and "You should do a blog." So I've decided to join the ranks of the blaggers...sorry...bloggers.

The venture is interesting...and daunting. Especially when confronted with the crisp north face of a fresh chapter. Even Neil Armstrong must have said "Aw shucks, not another moon rock."

But I can see one great personal benefit of a blog. All the time I'm thinking about it, I'm not actually working on the book - blogging not slogging. You hear about how writers can hit the wall occasionally in between those purple patches. Hmmm... The closer I get to the end the more walls and less purple there is - it's a bit like labour without the gas and air. Now, an epidural would come in handy; I wouldn't be able to tell when my bum had numbed again. Something I usually find out only when I attempt to disengage from the keyboard.

After 80,000 words that keyboard is looking pretty ropey. Surprisingly the 'n' is the most battle scarred, you'd think it would have been a vowel. Action on the keys is not what it was; it may soon become unbearable for the better half, who regularly informs me of its continued deterioration. I'm surprised it doesn't have Steinway on it. He's already hinted at a new one. I'm loathed to succumb. Given the amount of crud that must have fallen underneath the keys, there could be an entire ecosystem flourishing down there. A new and exciting species of Qwerty is, at this very moment, planning an attempt on the summit of Mount 'Missing N'.

It would be a shame to miss the flag planting.