Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A stupid list.

We all do stupid things from time to time, but I excel at it. On the plus side it's nice to have something to excel at. Here are a few of the stupid things I’ve done over the years.

1982 - leaving a nightclub in the south of France and walking the coast road back to our mobile home at 1.00 in the morning, alone. Let’s just say I had a close encounter of the groping kind, but on the plus side I got away.

1984 - going for a summer job interview at The University of York and flirting with the student sitting next to me waiting to go in, getting up and heading for the door still flirting, walking straight into a filing cabinet. On the plus side I got the job, and he didn't.

The University of York, full of stupid cabinets.

1986 - boarding a train from Bordeaux to Lisbon expecting to arrive at 8.00 in the evening and arriving at 8.00 next morning instead. Consequently spending the worst night of my life sitting bolt upright, sandwiched between two Germans, with nothing to eat, not even a sandwich. On the plus side I got to practice my German. "Sie stinken, aber ich glaube ich liebe Sie."

1988 - going ahead and buying a studio flat in Streatham despite some City guy telling my dad in the lift of the Lloyd's building that there was going to be a property crash and I shouldn’t. On the plus side… hang on... nope, there definitely isn't a plus side to that. Streatham is a shithole and I was stuck there eight years.

A great glass elevator.

1994 - directing a shoot wearing a brand new pair of GAP chinos (it was 1994) with the size label still stuck on my arse. The cameraman was kind, though, he did tell me, after we wrapped. On the plus side they weren't plus size, they were US size 4.

2003 - taking the boys to fencing class for the first time and thinking the teacher's first name was Salle. On the plus side I never let him know.

2004 - taking the bins out in my dressing gown on a rainy day and getting shut out. On the plus side I got to bond with the neighbours, and learnt I could crawl through a cat flap.

2005 - being so hungover I had to get a friend to take two boys to school while I violently wretched over the loo and peed myself at the same time, with the toddler clinging to my skirt, anxiously repeating, “Mummy, okay?” On the plus side I haven't done that since.

2008 - telling my wide-eyed little son that the tooth fairy would come in the night and put a shiny new coin under his pillow, then forgetting all about it. On the plus side that tooth fairy is sneaky, she then hid it under the sheets and said it was there the whole time.

A fairy.

2012 - contradicting Lorraine when I went on Lorraine on ITV. My one and only time on live television and I was petrified. I was introduced as the mother who regretted having kids because it killed her career because of some stupid thing I’d 'written' for the Daily Mail. The daggers behind her eyes when I corrected her will stay with me forever. She’s not real by the way. She’s animatronic. Her back is hollow. There’s a whole team pulling levers. On the plus side they paid me £50 (I’m clutching at straws here).

Lorraine Kelly - actually made of cardboard.

2012 - ‘writing’ a thing for the Daily Mail about women, careers, and being a mother. On the plus side they paid quite a bit more than £50. 

2013 - taking Youngest to the opticians for the first time and asking him if the glasses were helping. They were the frames. The lenses hadn't been made up yet. In my defence no one in our family had glasses before. On the plus side it's given me something really stupid to put on this list.

2013 - telling a hot shot literary agent who invited me to visit him at his office that I would write a synopsis and a couple of chapters but not the whole thing because someone told me this is what you should do. This is not what you should do. You should keep your mouth shut and smile winsomely, especially if you're a woman. On the plus side I now have a lovely agent, who is a woman.

2014 - telling another hot shot literary agent I couldn’t speak to her on the phone as arranged because Eldest had a high temperature and I had to drive him to his A-Level English examination. She never did get back to me. On the plus side he got an A*.

Now - wasting time thinking it was stupid always putting my family top of my list, when it wasn’t.

Love E x


P.S. Don't be stupid, remember there’s (nearly) always a plus side.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Picture postcards.

Three keys.

Wednesday. I'm standing in the hall. It's nearly two in the morning. There's a key in the front door. It bursts open and I burst into tears. The person in the doorway stops dead in his tracks. "Er," he says.

"Oh my God," I sob. "I thought you were dead!"

The person in the doorway (who shall remain nameless to protect his privacy) takes two long strides across the hall and throws his arms around me. "I’m here," he says, "I’m not dead."

This makes my sobbing worse. The two of us sit at the bottom of the stairs as I sob into his shoulder. "I could kill you." I say, sobbing.

"It's not my fault," he says. "I didn't have credit on my phone. You never give me any money."

Another key. The front door opens again. It's another of my sons, who shall also remain nameless. "Jesus, mate," he says, addressing his brother. "I’ve come all the way back from my thing because of you."

"I’m sorry," I say, through my tears. "I needn’t have rung you. He’s alive."

"I can see that," he says, closing the door. "Well, that's what really matters, I guess. Just."

Almost immediately, a third key. The door opens again. "Jesus Christ," says Husband, wheeling his bike into the hall, "my hands are frozen."

"It’s okay," I say, "he’s here."

"So I see," he says.

Next day I receive a Facebook message from the son in question, which reads: "This is your daily reminder that I am alive."

A river runs through it.

Road to ruin.

Thursday. I’m on a recce in Richmond, looking for a car park at the end of a long road leading down to the river. "You have arrived at your destination," says the sat nav. But which one? I'm uncertain. It's a dead end, with three private car parks to choose from. I ring the person I've arranged to see. "I’m coming right down," he says.

I wait in the car, the engine idling, staring out of the window, watching three young men walking towards me down the middle of the road.  "Elizabeth?" one of them says, when he reaches the window on the driver's side. 

The glass glides down. "Hello," I say. We all shake hands through the empty space. 

"You just need to park here," he says, pointing at a narrow bay between two concrete posts.

I’m not bad at parking. In fact I’m great at parking, especially parallel parking, even my husband says so. But being watched by three young men as I manoeuvre into a tiny space by a river is nerve-wracking to say the least. Take it slow and steady, I think, and it will be fine. And I do. And it is. Phew.

The recce is great. The people are wonderful. The location is stunning. The sky is blue, and cloudless. As I’m leaving I take one last photograph. "Er," says the receptionist, walking up to me.

"Don't worry," I say, "you're not in it."

"It’s not that," she says. "You didn't put your hand brake on and your car rolled back a bit. A few of our guys went out and put bricks under the wheels. I think you met them before."

Portrait by an artist.

Pictures of people.

Friday. We’re at the National Portrait Gallery to see the Picasso portraits, just me and Eldest. I’ve booked lunch in the restaurant at the very top as a treat, just for me and Eldest. But there’s not much time between our timed slot for the exhibition and the lunch reservation. We end up rushing past the portraits at such speed they look more Jackson Pollock than Pablo Picasso. 

"Maybe we can pop back after lunch?" says Eldest. 

"I doubt it," I say, "they’re pretty strict about that sort of thing."

In the restaurant we’re served by an extremely friendly waitress. "Oh!" she says, as I place my order. "I completely thought you were American!"

"Me?" I say.

"Yeah," she says, "I think it’s the boots."

Small illustration.

When we get back downstairs after our food - which was delicious - I blag us back into the exhibition by saying we're going in the gift shop. After snooping around the portraits a bit longer, we’re approached by two of the staff. "Excuse me, madam," says one of them, "but do you have tickets?"

"Er," I say.

"It’s okay," says the other member of staff, a woman. "Let them stay. They were in here before. I remember the lady's boots."

Love E x


P.S. I bought a postcard in the gift shop because the mugs were twenty quid. Twenty quid!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Lotus position.

Virgin on the ridiculous.

Bare ladies. There are loads of them at Virgin Active in Streatham. They are in the changing rooms and the sauna. One of them, a large, bare, elderly lady, attempts to climb up to the bench above me in the sauna where I'm warming up after my swim, and slips on the way. The resulting view I’m afforded will haunt me for some time. My brother tells me that’s nothing. He was once in a sauna with a naked friend whose limbs locked in the lotus position. He was taken to hospital, where they carried him through A&E in nothing but a towel, looking like half a person, the bottom bit missing. He was right as rain after a shot of muscle relaxant, though. That story's probably not true but it had me laughing so much I was bent double.

Getting warm.

It’s not that I’m shy about nudity. As I've explained before I grew up in a liberal (and Liberal) household where we were taught that the naked body is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just that the nudity in the changing rooms at Virgin Active, Streatham takes me by surprise because I’m new to it. I didn’t join as a New Year’s resolution, I joined about a month ago because I was fed up of Streatham pool. Don’t get me wrong, the pool at Streatham pool is second to none, it’s just everything around it that's crap. Conversely the pool at Virgin Active is a bit crap, while everything around it is second to none. Dirty showers and rude staff got me down at Streatham pool, but being admonished by a teacher gave me a final reason to quit. "If you’re not out of that cubicle dressed in two minutes you miss playtime!" he yelled, rapping his knuckles on my door. When I emerged I was in the middle of Year 6. "Please, sir," I said, "could I be excused to go home now?" As I left he winked at me. I don’t know which was more unsettling: the threat of punishment or the flirting.

Nudity aside it's working out fine at Virgin Active. I like that I get towels and don’t have to take one, even if they are the size of postage stamps. I like that the shower spray is constant and not intermittent. The padlock for my locker is a bit of an issue. The other day I reset it by accident. Nothing will make you feel so vulnerable as standing with nothing between you and the rest of south London but a minuscule towel, with everything you need entombed in a locker before you. 

Hurt locker.

Fortunately the bare lady I encountered in the sauna was now dressed and offered help. She went away briefly, to return with the biggest bolt cutter I’ve ever seen in my life. Since then I've bought a new lock. But I’ve taken to keeping my bag poolside, where I can keep a weather eye on it all the same.

Lady in the van.

Rage. There you are bubbling along nicely, the next minute it's spewing forth like lava. We all have it, just some people keep a lid on it better than others.

No one rowed in our house over Christmas. It was goodwill in Tooting and peace to all men, women, partners, children, grandparents, and mothers-in-law. Which is perhaps why, the very next day after the parentals had gone (my sister-in-law's name for them), Husband and I started yelling at each other for practically no reason. Think about it: there’s only so much nice you can be. It ran out.

We settled on a walk on Wimbledon Common. The boys wouldn't come. "Just you and me, then," said Husband, "and you can drive." "Ok," I said, "but the choice of music is mine." I can’t drive without music. To me they go together like cheese and.... well, crackers, obviously.

Wombling free.

This raised the issue of the broken Mac disc drive in my office. I moaned about this, again. Husband reckoned I could sort it out for myself, again. I reckoned I’d done quite enough sorting, again. Barely out of first gear down the road, he was shouting and I was shouting. Out of nowhere I was swerving toward the pavement, telling him if he insisted on having this stupid argument about the music-syncing again he could forget the walk together and walk home by himself instead, which he did.

Of course I didn’t really want him to get out of the car. There’s always that split second when you do something or say something you can’t quite believe you just did or said. Arguments are like that, every time. You want to reverse, rewind, erase. You can’t.

Later I prepared dinner and we all ate together. Husband kindly asked if I’d like a glass of wine. I politely replied no thank you because I'd already poured one. He washed up. I sat next to him watching University Challenge as he answered an extraordinary number of questions, as usual. We both watched Lady in the Van that I'd recorded over Christmas. "I don’t know why I’m watching this with you," he said, "but it's strangely compelling." 

"Because it's slow," I said, placing my legs across his lap. 

"So why are there two Alan Bennetts?" He said. 

"I suppose it’s a device," I said, "so we know what he’s thinking."

"In accommodating her, I find 20 years of my life has gone," says one of the Alan Bennetts.

"If I was with her every day for twenty years, I'd strangle her," says Husband. 

"I’d be lost without you," I say. 

"Ditto," he says.

Love E x


P.S. "You don't put yourself into what you write, you find yourself there," says one of the Alan Bennetts.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

It's Christmas... doggy style.

This blog has eaten a huge amount and collapsed on the sofa. My brother’s dog came for Christmas, however, so here are his holiday snaps to keep you entertained until I’m back again next week. Over to you, Bruno. I'm having another Baileys.

I'm gonna buy me a train ticket - first class.

Wherever I lay my paws - that's my basket.

Romantic dinner - but not for me.

Park life - where am I?

At last, a clear road.

Take me to the pond.

I found me a girl.

They had this.

While I got this.

Flaming pud!

I believe in Father Christmas, cos...

he got me this.

Love Bruno x


P.S. Only some paws in their game.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

What price freedom?


There was a time I used to pity people with teenagers and adult children. How awful, I thought, not to have cute little kids anymore. But now I have teenagers and one adult child I think it's great. And I say this even after Eldest just knocked a precious wedding photograph off the stair wall with his enormous rucksack within minutes of arriving home for Christmas, sending it smashing to the floor, requiring me to drive to the framers next morning to have the glass replaced.

Shattered glass.

One reason I like having teenagers and one adult child is that you can leave them, as we did on Saturday night...

"I am sitting in bed in a bed and breakfast in Bedfordshire, drinking a pint, eating crisps, watching the Strictly final, about to go to the party," I text a friend, in reply to one she sends me.

It should have been Danny.

"Boys back home alone?" she texts back.

"Yep," I reply. "Eldest in charge."

"Good luck," she returns.

Mmm. Leaving Youngest and Middle One is one thing, we’ve done that quite a bit recently with no problem at all, but leaving Eldest in charge is quite another. 

The first time we tried it, back when he was about 15, we got a phone call from Middle One at the dinner party we were attending to tell us that instead of putting Youngest to bed in a sensible manner, as instructed, Eldest had secretly hidden in his brother’s wardrobe and leapt out when his lights were out, scaring the bejesus out of the little fella.
Coming out of the closet.

"Did you used to do reckless things when you were twenty?" I ask Husband as we're putting our glad rags on to go to the party.

"Qualify reckless," he says.

"Damage to yourself, others, or property," I say.

"I walked on bridge parapets after a few drinks," he says. "Waterloo bridge springs to mind."

Take it to the bridge.

Later at the party we’re reunited with a group of university friends. I met them all on the very same occasion - back in 1985 - that I met my husband. He was then twenty, and encouraging them to wedge themselves off the ground between two walls in a corridor. Later, all five likely lads lived in the same house in their second year. I used to invite myself round. A lot. In the summer between their second and third years I moved in uninvited, Paula Yates-style, except less glam. I recall a craze they had for tikka-saucing everything before cooking it, particularly sausages.

Just one of the lads.

I find our old friend Johnny, whose party it is, over by the vodka luge. "Do you remember when you used to set fire to your farts?" I say.

"I work in insurance now," he says.

"And you told me I was lucky to be going out with Husband because he's so much better looking than me?" I say.

Johnny closes his eyes and puts his head in his hands.

"I’ve just seen pictures of us in your photo montage in the coat room," I say, "and you were right."

Studying the old photographs in more detail I’m struck by how similar Husband and Eldest look. Some of the faces Husband is pulling are the exact same ones Eldest pulls now, perhaps because Eldest is the exact same age Husband was then.

"I think maybe we should go straight home tomorrow and not go for that walk in the countryside like we said," I say to Husband, when I find him later hunched in a corner of the marquee eating two burgers, his own and the one he got for me.

"Why?" he says.

Next morning when we load up the car we find we have a flat tyre with a screw in it. Perhaps we drove over it on the journey up, or perhaps someone put it there deliberately. Either way we have to go into Bedford to find a Kwikfit, abandoning all hope of going for that walk in any case.

In Kwikfit I ring home. "Everything okay?" I ask Youngest, who actually answers the landline.

"I'm the only one out of bed," he says. "Last night we ate pizza and watched The History of Aardman."

The idea of all three sons being such good boys - eating pizza and watching TV together - warms my heart so much that I don’t even mind that I am sitting in a Kwikfit reception area in Bedford. 

Returning to the house we find everything as it should be. The floor swept, surfaces wiped, bins emptied, all in its rightful place… only for one tiny thing: a wedding photograph, its glass shattered in pieces on the hall floor. The exact same one that had just been repaired.

Love E x


P.S. We had a really good time at the party, though, despite that screw in the tyre costing £150.00 for a new one, plus another £10 at the framers for more glass.

It was a goodyear.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Four in a bed.

“And will you be spending Christmas at your house with your parents in your bed again this year?” asks my friend Karen when she rings for a chat on Saturday morning, which really makes me laugh. She’s referring to the year my parents over-stepped the mark not only coming into our bedroom to open their stockings from Father Christmas with us, but into the marital bed too, without a by your leave. We looked like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We’re a close family and all that, but there are limits.

Eight feet in a bed.

I’ve been in denial about Christmas and done nothing about it except throw myself into a guest room redecorating programme - in the hope that they might actually stay in there - and buy a new double bed for Eldest. Karen’s question forces me to address it.

In the absence of a plan to the contrary I guess we’ll be doing what we usually do. I have a theory it’s the wife who dictates Christmas traditions in most families based on what her own family did, because most men aren’t that fussed and generally do what they’re told. In no particular order then here are some of the things we usually do, because I say so...

Hold the line please caller.

Some kind of wonderful - I always wrap the many hundreds of presents it is apparently my sole responsibility as a woman to wrap while standing at the ironing board to save my back, watching It’s a Wonderful Life. It's my wrapping backing track (boom boom). I have to look up for that bit when she's on the phone and he's trying to not to be in love with her, though. Call me a soppy old romantic... cos it's true.

Movie me - I always book an old movie for Eldest and me to go to. Having a son doing a film degree is a Godsend. I drag him to all sorts of girly stuff and he has to take it like a man. Last year it was Dr Zhivago at the BFI and I cried all the way through. This year it’s Meet Me in St. Louis.

Chinatown - for a dim sum lunch with friends. We used to go skating first too but this year we're giving that a miss. We reckon we've chanced our collective arms not breaking any between us too many times before. Plus, it’s damn pricey.

Get ready to party - I'm not talking about a drinks party here like the sort we usually go to, you know: a plastic cup of mulled wine and a Marks and Sparks party snack, imprisoned in a corner by a guy in a comedy Christmas jumper who does some kind of job in computing. Oh no, this year we've been invited to a proper one, with a vodka luge and dancing. Actual dancing. I'll be that loony on that dance floor all night. In my new boots.

Stew on it - Christmas Eve I cook a beef stew like my mother did, and before that my grandmother did. Husband would rather it was a pie, which he reckons is "only a stew with a hat," but I’m refusing to put the lid on it because... it's my prerogative (what is it with men and pies?).

Mr Postman.

Spin that record - I have Happy Xmas (war is over) on the kitchen speakers very loud on Christmas morning. “And so this is Christmas and what have you done?” sings John. It always gives me goosebumps. I can think of plenty of things I haven’t done. I haven’t applied to do that MA. I haven’t finished that novel, the one I was enthusiastically writing and abruptly stopped writing mid-December last year. I haven’t sent back the boys’ fencing kit bought last Christmas that was all the wrong sizes, although I did just put it on eBay and so far there are five watchers.

Bit of a show - we always go to a show or a panto with my brother, sister-in-law and their girls (Oh yes we do). This time it’s School of Rock, which I also know by heart because with two guitar-playing boys in the house that film has been played A LOT, that and the other Jack Black classic: Be Kind Rewind, which if you haven’t seen I highly recommend, cos he’s funny.

Opening the stockings - it's the first thing we do Christmas morning, then we open all the other presents mid-morning. One year in Canada we had a family staying whose tradition was to open everything the minute they woke up. My mother thought this common. I remember their mother pointedly saying, “well, we have do it the way they do it in THIS house children, and that's all there is to it."

Bit of a puzzle.

Puzzling - my dad likes to do a jigsaw because that’s what his father did. If pieces don’t quite fit he shoves them in to complete it and my friend Fiona pops round and sorts it out later. She’s an architect. This year it’s a 1,000 piece map of London so it'll be interesting to see if he tries to jam Cockfosters where Chelsea should be. They'll be riots.

Getting pissed and falling out - there was the year my mother and I had a whopper about a trifle, literally about a trifle, I’m not even saying it was trifling. We appear to have reached some sort of entente cordiale lately though and haven’t rowed in ages, a year at least. I can't explain. Could it be my new zen approach? Could it be because - at the grand age I am now - I realise I’m lucky to have her? Dunno. Either which way it's only three days of biting my tongue. How hard can that be? Just so long as she doesn't climb into bed with me on Christmas morning.

Love E x


P.S. I didn't say all that to Karen by the way, I just said of course.