Tuesday, 28 June 2011


Darling, I've seen this wonderful
pair of shoes......

I have always wanted to live in the country - ever since I saw Catherine Zeta Jones floating about in “Darling Buds of May” - I had visions of making jam to go with my freshly baked, home-made bread; of hanging out great billowing lines of pure, white washing; of shooing chickens from around my feet; of butterflies blowing in the breeze through a sun-dappled orchard, of the drowsy humming of a bumble bee.....

So, 12 years ago I bought into the dream and left London for a sleepy Suffolk village. However, here are just some of the things they don't mention in the brochure.........

Totally unsuitable for avoiding cow pats
 or attending Summer Fayres in the rain

  • You can bin the Jimmy Choos. They are absolutely rubbish for walking through a village which  hardly has any pavements: This is especially so in the spring (rain), summer (dust), autumn (mud) and winter (snow). Likewise, you can replace the delicately embroidered wool coat with a battered old wax jacket for the same reason
  • You get an abundance of "mobile units" turning up at the village green.  Here we have a mobile library; a mobile barber; a mobile vet; a mobile dentist and a mobile police station. However, can you get a pizza delivered?  Not on your nelly. - you're out of delivery range.  Swings and roundabouts I suppose.
We should have turned
 left  at Albuquerque  -
this isn't Fulham Broadway
  • You regularly get to play:  “let's all hunt the road sign”.  This is a particularly favourite game of mine, whereby you blithely follow at least a dozen, clearly marked road signs to some remote hamlet, only to find they disappear completely and you have no idea of: a) where you are because the GPS signal is weak,  or b) where you are going because you are now surrounded by miles and miles of open space. Family fun in the school holidays guaranteed;

Another casualty

  • You can ditch the make-up. No amount of MAC transparent finishing powder is going to help when you are trying to scoop up a dead rabbit, armed with nothing but 2 long-handle shovels and a pair of rubber gloves.

  • People talk to you. Strangers. Checkout cashiers. Restaurant staff.  GP receptionists. Upon my arrival, I spent the first 6 months clutching my mobile phone to my chest because I thought they wanted to mug me. Turned out they were actually being friendly..
  • Folks are also more trusting here. I have seen laptops and handbags left unattended in coffee shops whilst the owners goes to the toilet. Car Sat Navs and portable DVD players left in full view without a care. Not to mention numerous babies left strapped in car seats and toddlers playing with the stereo/indicators, whilst the parents pop into school or a shop. Stuff that makes you go: “whoah! That's really not a good idea....;
One of the locals
  • Your 9 year old daughter can go into town wearing welly boots, blue eyeshadow and fairy wings all at the same time and no-one will bat an eyelid. Actually, could go into town wearing welly boots, blue eyeshadow and fairy wings and no-one would say anything! Now, try doing that on a Saturday night round the Elephant & Castle;  
  • Growing vegetables is not as easy as Alan Titchmarsh would have you believe.   I imagined my faux-French, farmhouse-style dining room table groaning under the weight of my very own harvest. Oh, how we would relish in the knowledge that everything we produced was organic and wholesome and tasty. The reality of course, was entirely different:
          Crops produced so far =
    Alan's table
    Carrots: 9 -  either too small to peel/cook or had already been tasted  by some bug;
    Peas: tons – we had boiled peas, stir-fried peas, raw peas, pea soup, pea and ham soup, pea risotto, peas au gratin, rice and peas, creamed peas and braised peas.  I never want to see another one of those tiny green blighters again;
    Parsnips1 - very small & misshapen.... more of a novelty item really.....;
    Easy peasy
    The lettuce was slightly more successful, but it has its limits. I mean, there is only so much of the stuff you can eat before you die of boredom - even if you do try to liven it up with a few peas.
    As for my home-made bread and jam - well, they probably deserve a blog-post of their own and our poor survival rate in keeping goldfish put us off from rearing any other livestock, so the chickens remain pie in the sky.
    I'm still here after 12 years. I doubt Catherine Zeta Jones would last 12 days.

Monday, 20 June 2011


but in another world, he would have been called Spike (Jones or Milligan) and had his own radio show. He has made me cry with laughter and cry with frustration over his pig-headedness and negativity. He has been ridiculously brave and is amazingly talented, yet he goes through life determined not to be noticed. So, although it will probably annoy him something rotten (if he ever finds out that is), I am going to “announce” him on the internet.

My dad: (all of this is absolutely true)

I never forget a face!  Photo by Rex
was a self-employed signwriter (old style, you know, the kind that had to do an apprenticeship) who used to do all the old theatre posters for the West End (before computers). I remember in the 1970s he did an enormous poster for the old Raymond Revue Bar in Soho and we came home from school to find 20 foot high posters of lovely ladies in 'artistic poses' drying in the front room. Mother wasn't best pleased, but it was a well-paid contract at the time;

He paints watercolours and vehemently maintains they are not very good (here are some of his paintings – I sneakily took some photos from his portfolio.  There are more on the 'paintings' page – you decide....);

copyright:  Bert
Don't be fooled boys and girls

He also did a caricature of Gene Wilder for some play he was in at the time. Mr Wilder hated it and told him so. I have never watched Willy Wonka since;

My Dad and I didn't speak for at least 6 months when I was a teenager. All over some boy whose name we have both forgotten;

He once jumped into the Thames to rescue a tourist who had fallen in the water while holding her baby (successful):

Pen & Ink  Copyright:  Bert
He has also climbed down onto the tracks in a South London tube station to help up an old chap who had managed to fall down the side (successful);

And gave the kiss of life to a guy who had had a heart attack at a dance he and mother were attending (unsuccessful – he was upset about that for a long time);

My Dad has lost at least 2 pairs of (expensive) glasses in the River Thames whilst leaning over to look at ducks (again, mother unimpressed);

He did all the gold lettering in the main sculpture hall of the Victoria & Albert Museum;

And helped with the mural on the back wall of the Tate Modern restaurant (top floor, if you're ever up there – food isn't bad and it has fantastic views across the Thames);
Copyright:  Bert

My Dad once came out of the changing rooms of the swimming pool sans glasses and, on going through a door that he thought led to the pool, went out through a fire exit instead and ended up on the street outside in his trunks;

Despite being quite skinny, he still managed to get himself well and truly stuck half-way down a swimming pool flume - much to the annoyance of the queue of kids behind him and the hysterics of his family who were watching from the sidelines (I got stitch from laughing at that one);

He once let himself into the hotel room he had been given the key to – only to find two old ladies already in there getting changed for dinner (the hotel apologised – mother unimpressed):

Copyright: Bert

And mistakenly went to a wrong wedding reception – realised halfway through the first drink that he didn't know either the bride or the groom and, cool as a cucumber, picked up his present from the gift table and left (mother mortified)

My Dad loves jazz and the blues. One of his favourite LPs is by Clarence Frogman Henry;

He once went out specifically to buy a tie for a bit of a do he was going to with mother (she had given him strict instructions). He came back with a border collie puppy that he had seen in a pet shop. His explanation that “it looked sad, so I bought it”, cut little ice with mother. The dog's name was Judy and as far as I can remember, it's main reason for living seemed to be to poop in the hallway and attempt to eat the living room carpet single handedly (pawedly ?) I cannot relate my mother's response to this as this is a family blog, but it went along the lines of: *&@*^%”!$@ dog!!!.... you get the picture.... Note: he was so excited about the puppy, he forgot about the tie...

Mixed media  Copyright: Bert

He is a huge fan of all things obscure and obtuse. Other children were brought up on lullabies like rock-a-by-baby; I was brought up on the Ying Tong song. He knows all the words to Milligan's part in the 'Fresh Fruit Song' and regularly sings it to the delight of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren..... and the annoyance of mother;

He has a box in his shed, full of “stuff” which intrigues the above mentioned children – especially the duck-caller;

He also thought it would be great fun to make a stink bomb with his 14 year old great-grandson at my house last Christmas. Making stink bombs when you are 72 years old should be admired I suppose, but both mother and I were unimpressed at that one;

My Dad scares the hell out of me with his health sometimes and I dread the day he will no longer be here to make me laugh;
One of his favourites: Horses Ass
Copyright:  Bert

My Dad sometimes looks very small.....and old;

It took me a long time to treasure my dad. But I do.

For Father's Day

Monday, 13 June 2011

I BELIEVE I CAN FLY.....but I didn't at first...

How I wish I could harness self-belief. I would be a millionairess, no a billion... trillionairess, because I could sell case-loads of miniature bottles of it to the human race. You know, we would each only need a tiny amount of it, because a little goes such a long way and too much self-belief can make you think you're the President of FIFA.

We are all born with it - this self-belief – so what happens? Where does it go?  Well, in my case parents/teachers/friends/
boyfriends/bosses (blimey, it seems almost everyone I came into contact with) have had a jolly good go at bashing it out of me. For instance, let me take you back... I am about 5 or 6 years old and in primary school (some names have been changed .....mainly because I can't remember their real ones)

ME excitedly jumping up and down and being very proud of the new hand puppet I had just made out of a brown paper bag (this was the 1960s remember): Miss! Miss! Look at Mr Brownbag! He can dance and talk – do you want him to sing you a song?


ME welling up because a) she had shouted at me and I couldn't work out why, and b) I was really proud of Mr Brownbag, he could sing and everything and he had a really big toothy smile and she had just chucked him on her desk without even looking at him: Yes Miss Growbag (in a very small voice)

The biggest spotty dog you ever did see
Of course, I didn't understand timing at the age of 6 years old. I didn't realise that Miss Growbag was having a mare of a day because the class were playing up and the last thing she needed was some skinny kid waving a brown paper bag with a face on it, believing it was the best thing since the Woodentops. The result of this encounter was that I never put myself forward in class again and forever after had school reports that said “needs to participate more in lessons”.

It didn't stop there either. Fast-forward 10 years and we are starting to talk about a possible career.

CAREERS OFFICER: Well, Tiara. I see you have filled out your career options form. It's a little ambitious don't you think?

ME: Umm...No

CAREERS OFFICER: Well, there's not much call for being a Cabaret Artist these days.
Trying to convince the careers lady that this is a suitable job 

ME swinging the chair around and sitting astride it like Christine Keeler…: Maybe, but I know I can do it. It's my dream...

CAREERS OFFICER sighing: This is real life, not dreamworld and you are not Liza Minelli. Liza Minelli is a talented actress, with famous parents; you are Little Miss Tiara from Nowheresville. You would do much better in an office.

ME: But I've got the hat and stockings and everything.....

CAREERS OFFICER: Good, I shall put you down for the Civil Service then.

And so she did.

So, feeling crushed and totally useless, I packed away my outfit  and learned to type and do all the other boring stuff I grew to hate when really, all I wanted to do was believe in my ability......

Skip a couple of years to the end of 6th Form:

ME: I want to go into the theatre. I want do do costume and set design.

MOTHER: Don't be silly. We had all this nonsense when you wanted to be a Cabaret Artist.  What you need  is a proper job with a regular wage until you can manage to find a man that will be daft enough to marry you and then you can cook and clean and have kids.

ME: But I don't want to do that. Look, I've made new designs for Jesus Christ Superstar (it was the 1970s by now)....

FATHER not even looking at my crowd-pleasing creations: That sort of thing is not for the likes of us. There's hardly any jobs like that out there. You'll never get your foot in the door.

So, believing I was just saving myself a lot of heartache in the long run, I walked away without even trying.

And I regret it to this day.

You know, I might have made a lousy Cabaret Artist and I might never have had my designs chosen for the local Amateur Dramatic Society, but I'll never know, because at the time I didn't believe I had a right to even find out.

Thus I promised myself I would be different with my own children; I would never pour water over their dreams, no matter how wild or unattainable they may seem and I have stuck to that - even though I have had to bite my tongue sometimes.

Yet, I look around and still I see the human race bemoaning their own lack of self-belief on the one hand while knocking it out of someone else with the other. And I ask: why do we do it?

So, if some kid comes up to you with a homemade hand-puppet and asks if you would like to hear it sing you a song, please stop and listen. It'll only take a minute but it will make them happy, reinforce their worth and help that little bit of self-belief on it's way.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


I really didn't want to bore everyone with my health updates so I shall spare you the pictures of my scars and accompanying spreadsheets of my latest painkiller regime. I wasn't going to blog about it because I didn't want to sound like one of those grannies you hear in the doctors waiting room – you know, the ones comparing their ailments and tablets with each other.....

Granny 1: “Well, the blue and yellow ones I was taking for me waterworks weren't working, so Dr said, 'well...' he said, 'they're only 25mg, that's your problem. What you need is 75mg'. So now I take 75mg of those and 50mg of the pink ones three times a day with food.

Granny 2: (not to be outdone in either the illness or medicinal brawn stakes) “Really? I have to take 100mg of the white and red ones and 250mg of the creamy coloured ones, you know the ones that are really big...like horse pills...”

Granny 1: (realising she is now partaking in a game of malady one-upmanship) “Ooh I know, and now the Dr is talking about giving me these new tablets that aren't even on the market yet. They are very expensive so they can't give them to everyone. I'll need 500mg in the morning and 750mg at night. The doctor has to get special permission from the Health Department to give them to me...”

Granny 2: (ignoring all that because she is on a roll, continues with gusto) “ ….and the Dr looked at me and he said 'Bunty, I don't know how you keep going like you do. You're an absolute saint. I've never seen a uterus like yours in almost 20 years of medical practice'. And he was in the Médecins Sans Frontières for 3 years, so he's been around the block a bit and has seen a thing or two!”

Grandad: (sitting opposite, leaning heavily on his walking stick) Well, this new cream I've got to put on...

So, I'm not going to be like that but you've all been very kind and asked how I got on (OK, well 2 of you did, but I know you're all very busy) so I will just say:

The facet block injections did indeed hurt like hell. I had to lie on my stomach with my bare ass in the air (so dignified don't you think?) while they injected along my spine. They gave me a local anaesthetic, but I think it must have been faulty or flood-damaged stock because I felt everyone of the the buggers go in....and there were eight of them. Yes, that's right - EIGHT! And although I couldn't see it, I'm sure the needle they used was at least a metre long... and I love the way healthcare professionals are the masters of understatement:

just a little scratch coming up” (this is where I stifle a scream – no – that's not a little scratch – that was a centimetre-wide blunt instrument skewering my skin like some spatchcocked chicken)


“this might be a little uncomfortable” (for 'uncomfortable' read 'agony' – I mean, what are these people made of - because it's obviously not the sensitive, rose-petal delicate muscles of this mama's ass.

Seriously though, the fault lies entirely with me being an complete wimp (I would have been absolute rubbish in the Blitz) and the hospital staff were brilliant. It was very sore afterwards but the Consultant had warned me that the muscles don't like this procedure at all (direct quote). Still it does seem to have had some positive affect and I can move a little easier. I suppose I thought it was either going to work or not – I hadn't considered that it might work a bit. Now we have to see how long it lasts because it's only a temporary measure - for some people it lasts 6 months – for others, only 6 weeks. I fear the fandango may have to wait a little longer......