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 canap├ęs 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.