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Its been ages, dear blog spotters

October 12th, 2014

Its been ages, dear blog spotters and sorry for that, I’ve been trying to crack the story of a new novel and I’ve been sitting in my pants, huffing and puffing and stressing over it.

Finally I seem to be seeing the daylight through the murk of characters and plot and voices in my head- this will be my fourth novel and I feel a lot is riding on it- no pressure there then!

Talking about reading, you really need to log onto Standard Issue, a new free emag, written and produced solely by women with all of the women’s magazine crap about weight and blah taken out- so you’re left with just the good bits, tons of great writing/opinions/anecdotes- I’m a fan and that’s why I’ve written for it.

Apart from the writing, I’ve been painting, me and the old man went on a Flavours painting holiday in Treviso which is just outside of Venice and yes we did get a day in Venice.


And we did lots of painting, here’s one of mine

…and one of his

Can you tell the difference? Geof quickly became the teachers pet, because he can do perspective, something I really struggle with, which is why my stuff looks a bit flat and childish- here’s another

Anyway, we had a laugh and met some nice people ( all women apart from Scottish Hugh, the endlessly patient painting teacher’).

Activity holidays might just be the way forward, once your body is never going to be ‘beach fit’ again, there have got to be more exciting alternatives, anyway,  to be honest, the thought of just lolling about on a beach for an entire week, now slightly bores me, these days I’m like a toddler, I need things to do.

Which reminds me, did you see my knitted Dachshund? Yes, I know, the first sign of madness is knitting your own dog, but I was determined to do it and even though the kit said for 7 yrs plus, I really struggled, anyway here he is…

I know, is it a dog, is it a seal? I have been banned from creating anymore

I think part of coping with getting older is by having hobbies, since the painting holiday – I’ve allowed myself the occasional twenty min sketch session, it’s a kind of therapy. Between the knitting and the drawing and the HRT, I hope to retain some kind of sanity through some of life’s frankly fucking tough bits.

Moving on, I did a really great telly job back when it was really hot – coming up soon for Children in Need are three Celebrity Sewing Bee specials and I’m hosting one of them, I can’t tell you what a laugh this was and how hard people worked and the result s- well you’ll see, it was genuinely a really happy experience.

The radio 4 series Little Lifetimes which ran from August into the early Autumn have been re-comissioned for next year and I’m utterly thrilled about that, hopefully I’ll be able to bagsy the same caliber of actresses next time around, I was so lucky with this first series.

But apart from a few gigs to stretch my old legs, its all about the writing at the moment, writing, writing, writing – which reminds me, I did a gig at Cheltenham Lit fest to celebrate the publication of a book about R4’s Just a minute, anyway after a few rounds of the game (with Shappi and Pam Ayres), a wasp invaded the stage and 91 year old Nicolas Parsons killed it, by smiting it with his stick and then crushing it with his foot – it was quite the scene.

Also did a nice little literary event at the new posh Foyles on Charing X road with fellow comedy people Viv Groscop, Lucy Porter, Sarah Pascoe and John Robbins, as part of the ‘Books are my Bag’ day – if you live in London keep an eye out on these book events at Foyles, there are worse ways to while away an hour than chatting about books, with booky people in a fabulous bookshop.

Ok gang, culturally I’ve been slow, when Im writing a new book I get to a stage where I can’t read anything else – I swallowed “Daughter’ on holiday because I wanted to see why it was selling so well and now I know – but as for anything else, until draft 1 is finished, then books are off the agenda – and I’m desperate to stick my nose in the new David Nichol.

A rare trip to the cinema to see ‘Gone Girl’ resulted in frustration – it’s a very ordinary film and I expected something madder and more indie, it’s a proper Hollywood big budget movie and all the worse for that, though Pike is good, but the only bits that really took off for me were the trailer trash scenes.

As for live shows, my favourite performance this season so far has been Luisa Omielan at Soho, this girl is wonderful – and she has funny bones.

Supper after in Herman Ze German – ja wohl- sausages.

Also popped into The Arcola to see a new short by my favourite playwright Phoebe Eclair Powell, my girl is the writing biz and I love what she does.

Her first full length play ‘Wink’ will be going into Theatre 503 next Spring which is vvvv exciting

Art wise, I’ve seen the Virginia Woolf at the Nat Portrait gall and while in Venice we visited the Peggy Guggenheim, possibly my favourite small art gallery in the world

Here are a couple of my favourite pieces that Peggy owned

Ice Bucket Challenge

August 26th, 2014

I got asked to do the Ice Bucket Challenge…

I’m back from my summer holidays

August 16th, 2014

I’m back from my summer holidays, it was beautiful but too expensive and I’m not keen on the direction Dubrovnik is heading, lots of laminated menus and people badgering you to come in for lunch at 11 am – just fuck off, I’ve only just eaten my stunningly overpriced breakfast.

On the plus side, its still the cleanest city I have ever visited, and they’ve got a new cable car and I do love a cable car and you can still get a cheap ferry over to Lopud, where they take you to the sandy beach on a golf cart. There you go, three of my favourite methods of transport in one week! Plus our hotel transported you to the main town by speedboat, only they went really slowly – tut.






I am not brown, all my holiday photos show that the palms of my hands are dark orange, but that’s the Clarins fake tan for you, it’s still coming off, and do you know? I’ve grown quite fond of orange sheets.

Summer is horribly slow – work wise (good job I’ve got a book to write) and I keep my eye on all the Ed fest reviews and wish I was up there doing something exciting, but if I was, I’d only be as mental and complaining as many of my comedy mates, most of whom are pretty transparent about what kind of festival they’re having on twitter. In fact I’ve unfollowed a couple for being so moany – pot calling, I know!

My Dad was 90 a few weeks ago, we all went up and his nursing home were incredibly kind and let us all pile into his room and provided glasses and cake plates and my mum took us all out for dinner and I think she was glad to see us come but relieved when we’d all buggered off, my brother is louder than I am and he’s 6 foot 4 and there were dogs, so it was a bit mad. My dad wore his parachute regiment tie.

My radio series LISTEN AGAIN HERE ‘Little Lifetimes’ a series of fifteen minute monologues set in real time, has been ticking over at 11.15 on radio 4 every Wednesday night for the past three weeks. Still three to go, I’m enormously proud of them, all the actresses are completely brilliant and I’m v chuffed with the reviews and reaction. See what you think if you have access to an iplayer they’re stashed for a week after every broadcast.

Back in blighty, the week was rocked by the news of Robin William’s death, depression and comics, is perceived to be ‘thing’ by many- Im not sure we can lay claim to bagsying any illness, I don’t think depression chooses its victims by career choice, but some statistics do suggest there is a link between comedy and mental chaos, anyway I wrote this.

ROBIN WILLIAMS DEPRESSION AND COMEDY

Despite being in comedy for over thirty years, I’m not a comedy nut, I can’t quote great chunks of sketch shows, I don’t watch other stand up’s D.V.D’s for pleasure, (they make me feel feel panicky) and I cant say that I’m familiar with every bit of Robin William’s oeuvre, but like most people with a heart beat I was shocked by his suicide. In amongst the outpourings of 140 character twitter eulogies (oh listen, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t), the one thing that struck me was that people nowadays seem to have a much better handle on the realities of mental illness. No-one on my time line is saying ‘Why, how could a rich man with a fancy lifestyle and a glittering career, do this to himself and his family?’ I think we’ve all moved away from the idea that suicide is selfish, it’s not selfish, its sad.

Sad is a very small world but it wields a lot of power and for some people depression makes them too sad to live. With the death of a comic, the ‘tears of a clown’ thing will inevitably rear its head, now I’m not convinced that comedians are more neurologically predisposed to depression than say lawyers or teachers but in my own experience, a lot of my colleagues are a bit ‘messed up’. And I say that as a compliment, there is a degree of heroic abnormality about going into stand up, it might be a lot more homogenized and degree orientated these days, but certainly when I started out, it was a haven for the odd ball and the theatrically eccentric, for people who didn’t fit neatly into the more conventional strata of show business. Here, at last was a home for people who wanted to knock nails into their noses, insert fireworks up their bums and put a pair of glasses on their penis to imitate General De Gaul, (Malcolm Hardee by the way, not me).

And everyone drank and everyone smoked and everyone generally behaved badly, but I’m going back to the 80’s when you could afford to be alternative without a trust fund and there just didn’t seem to be any limits, it was all very exciting. That said, I was scared stiff for the first fifteen years of my career, stand up felt like walking a tightrope, I lived in fear of falling, which I did many times and I still do and I still suffer from appalling anxiety, anxiety that has occasionally slipped out of hand.

Ten years ago performing at the Edinburgh festival, the entire stage seemed to slide, I felt like I was on a boat, sweating and swallowing back nausea for the rest of the show, I was diagnosed as having a panic attack and given valium in case it happened again. And it has happened since, I always know when an attack is on its way, I get a metallic taste in my mouth and I have to hold onto furniture, it’s a bore but its infrequent and at least I know I’m not having a heart attack.

The one thing all comics know is that sometimes the only thing you have to hold your hand on stage is adrenalin and adrenalin or epinephrine is a very strong hormone that acts like a drug. Basically adrenaline gives you a high, it can make you unable to sleep until you’ve drunk a bottle of red wine, it can make your heart palpitate, it can make you think you’re going to pass out, it can make you easy pickings for the other stuff, the booze and the coke, the upper and the downers.

There was a time in the late 80’s when the London comedy scene was awash with coke, I was fortunate enough to get pregnant in 1989 and in a wave of maternal righteousness was able to flush my very last stash down the toilet. I‘m incredibly grateful for the timing of my pregnancy, a few more years and I’m sure I’d have had as big a problem as others who can’t be named, some of whom are still in the business, some of whom are dead and some who just fell by the wayside, because they lost their work ethic, cocaine gives a false sense of comedy confidence and eventually it trips you up. But I remember how omnipotent it made me feel, I know why people miss it and I also think many of us can sympathize with the dangers of drinking, there are thousands of us who are borderline problem drinkers, reaching for that massive glass of chardonnay at the end of a shitty day. Addiction comes in all shapes and sizes and a lot of comics don’t have to get up in the morning. For many there’s plenty of time to sleep it off, before repeating the process over and over again, creating a groove for yourself that its hard to get out of, the daily mental dance of, ‘I love myself, I hate myself, I love myself, I hate myself.’

Of course Robin Williams demons went way beyond all this and only he and his family can possibly know how badly he struggled and I have no idea if there is a chicken and egg thing with comedy and mental chaos, although there is a recent report from the Institute of Psychiatry suggesting that comedians possess higher levels of psychotic characteristics than those not in the business, (but my old man could have told you that). What I do know, is that around around thirty five years ago I sat bolt upright on the sofa when Mork and Mindy first hit our screens, I remember thinking, now this is something properly funny, this is something new, this is resetting the bar, so how very sad that it should all end like this.

Shazbat.

Finally, THIS MONTH I HAVE READ
‘The Shock of The Fall’ good, slightly self conscious, but I can see why it’s popular, easy short chapters, good for tube journeys.
‘All Change’ the last of The Cazalets series by Elizabeth Jane Howard, a great big nursery book for grown ups, comforting as toast.
‘The Paying Guests’ by Sara Waters – this was a preview copy and was everything we expect from Waters, lesbians, intrigue and some real nail biting suspense, fans will love it. Her period detail is really fabulous.

Ok, back to writing my book… laters

Well the Grumpy tour bus has ground to a halt for now

June 26th, 2014

Well the Grumpy tour bus has ground to a halt for now but fingers crossed there might be another outing next year, its been one of the nicest tours I’ve ever done, poss because the show was a dream to perform and the reaction was so positive. There are still some tweaks to be made but by the time the show was up and running, there weren’t many moments when I had the re-write bell ringing in my head.

Highlights included my mum coming to The Blackpool Grand which I’d never played before, ditto Leeds Grand, both beautiful theatres – as you can see:


BLACKPOOL GRAND


LEEDS GRAND

In most theatres the backstage areas are a bit shit but quite often there are some great vintage photos and posters from ‘back in the day’, here are some classics from Blackpool and Croydon:


BACKSTAGE BLACKPOOL


BACKSTAGE CROYDON

Over the weeks there were loads of highlights, lots of treats, many glasses of wine and jaunts into town – Norwich wins best city for buskers and market stalls btw!



On the whole, bar the odd tired tiff and tantrum, it was really good fun, but in the end our costumes and the set were falling apart at the seams, so it was time to call it a day, lets face it 8,000 miles in 8 weeks is enough for anyone – particularly our driver.

Anyway back to real life and having to think about what to buy for supper – instead of digging into the rider every night, still nice to be back in my own bed, even if it is lumpy of mattress and grubby of sheet.

I think the old man is pleased to see me as he’s been a tour widower for months and is rather fat from eating rubbish in my absence – so as soon as Id finished recording a series of six radio 4 monologues called ‘Little Lifetimes’ we decided to treat ourselves to a holiday.

Huzzah what great weather to sneak off for four nights – we headed for Cornwall via Exeter and basically spent four nights in two of my favourite hotels in the Uk. The Magdalen Chapter Exeter used to be an old eye hospital, but is now a really gorgeous hotel, with old bits and new bits and a swimming pool that is both in and outdoors (tiny but rather great).


Exeter is rather nice, the cathedral is stunning and there’s a lot going on – its one of those places where you start noseying in Estate Agents windows!


From Exeter we drove through Dartmoor and yes we saw ponies, apart from wild ponies, we saw ponies at the miniature horse centre which is truly lovely and has pigs and mice and guinea-pigs and other farm yardy stuff as well as little horses and I just fucking loved the place- as you can see (dreadful panini’s mind you!).



Eventually we got to Fowey in Cornwall, where we had three sumptuous nights at the really lovely Fowey Hall hotel, commonly thought to be the inspiration behind Toad Hall, Fowey Hall, is both cosy and posh, it has a slightly frayed elegance mixed with cutting edge modern design, it really is beautifully done – not cheap mind, but the views are stunning and the service is impeccable


Whilst we were in Cornwall we did lots of Cornish things, sunny days at the beach, river trips and a St Ives jaunt on the most breathtaking of beautiful summer days


In St Ives we went to the Tate which had an ace show on and ate at my most favourite beach side café in the world, The Porthmeor Beach café, where I had the prawns.

Anyway, we had to come home because I had a slightly odd gig booked in an inflatable tent in the shape of a bowler hat bang slap outside St Pauls in the city – I forgot I didn’t do tents, the sound is always rubbish as you’re up against the generator – hey ho, great idea in principle, the tent looked great but acoustically was a pig to play – possibly I have finally learnt my lesson – I don’t do tents and it was raining!

THIS MONTH I HAVE

READ Elizabeth is Missing – recommended – easy read, tricky concept, nicely pulled off, great narrative voice, really liked it.

SEEN The Ben and Winifred Nicholls at Dulwich Art Gallery – a really great exhibition, I love it when Duwich gets it right – this is full of delights.

Hello, hello (waves frantically from the back of a Toyota Land Cruiser)

May 8th, 2014

We Grumpies are on tour and since I last wrote this blog, we’ve been in rehearsal and then on the road. Anyway I’m relieved to report things are going well and that after a few technical hitches, we are in fine fettle and still speaking to each other!

We are also eating a great deal, the worst thing about being on tour is the post show Chardonnay which leads to post show evil crisp hand, which leads to bulging out of our knickers.

Anyway…. So far, top accommodation points to The Lazy Cow Salisbury, a gastro pub with nice rooms just a spit away from the Cathedral.

Nil point to The Green Dagon in Hereford which is dreadful and serves the worst breakfast in the country – tinned fruit – its 2014 for heavens sake and a surly old bat in charge of the dining room, making for a mass Grumpy exodus to a café round the corner.
The Hotel Du Vin in Cheltenham scores v highly on rooms and breakfast but we have to take points off for post show v bad bar sandwiches – however, they are forgiven because everyone was incredibly nice, ditto our hotel in Basingstoke, where we each had a mini stable yard cottage at The Oakley hall hotel, and they served my scrambled egg and smoked salmon breakfast, like this:

So far best hotel treat has been the appearance on our pillows of mini pork pies, now this is a back ref to a joke in the show and I can’t tell you how delicious it was and yes I ate it even though it was midnight and I wasn’t really hungry.

Surprise best gigs so far have included, Worthing, Milton Keynes and Dorking, some nights things really take off and by the time you get to the curtain call you’ve got hairs sticking up on the back of your neck, but none have been a disaster and we’re incredibly grateful to anyone who comes along – so cheers if that includes you.

Telly wise I was asked onto Spring Kitchen with Tom Kerridge and did some filming in Maison Berthoux with Nigel Slater, both top men and most excellent chefs. Radio wise apart from lots of regionals, we Grumpies were invited in to chat with Graham Norton – and took the opportunity of showing him our specially adapted to carry a microphone pack pants, made by Susie Blakes own fair hand:

So, we got a lovely 4 star review in The Times and another rave in The Stage. The show isn’t for everyone, but it certainly strikes a chord with the people we wrote it for – mostly women of a certain age, but we’re finding middle-aged gay men are really going for it too, in fact its taking lots of people who didn’t expect to like it (young people and husbands mostly) by surprise – which is great as you can see them visibly relax in their seats!!

Anyway, I’m so pleased to be doing it and I know that I’m very lucky – so thanks if you’ve bought a ticket and if you’re thinking of buying a ticket, get on with it.

So – culture catch up (v remiss this month I’m afraid)
Since I last blogged I have started:
READING – The Luminaries, big fat old book, slightly too heavy for touring, may go on the back burner.
SEEN – The Phylida Barlow installation at Tate Britain – great fun:

Also, Birdland at The Royal Court, courtesy of the daughter who works there – I found this intriguing, compelling and beautiful to watch – hats off to Andrew Scott for a snakey performance.
Finally, Accident – a great film directed by Joseph Losey – starring the great Dirk Bogarde.

I am also continuing to knit!!!!!

Laters……