Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Spider Webs

Hurrah! Autumn is here. After a wet August and a September that felt more like April, Autumn has arrived in full glorious technicolor. The kids are back to school (was it just me or did summer draggggg this year?) and normal service has resumed.

The school run - normally a frantic mad dash up a hill,  a dance through a minefield of dog poo in a snicket and a full on sprint across the school lawn - has become much more a joy, now that spider season is here. My daughter rushes from bush to tree, hunting the stunning webs, where a hairy speckled spider busily wraps a wasp up like a mummy with utter precision. We have named each spider - Mr Green, Hairy and Lairy and the wonderful Big Bad Bob - who is the size of a small crab.

My 6 year old has joined the local football club under 7's team and has to train at the ungodly hour of 8:30am every saturday. She is the only girl on her team - which she takes in her stride, tackling every boy with methods I'm not convinced are legal and winging her way up and down the pitch, her ponytail flipping in the wind. At first I was reluctant to give up my weekend mornings, then I remembered - I'm a parent, weekends have long lost their old glory. So I trudged to the side of the pitch, while the rest of my quiet little market town slept to watch her match. It has now become the highlight of my week. Nothing brings me as much joy as when one of those cute 6 year olds lob the ball into the bak of the opposing team's net.

Meanwhile, team CM are on the move. Well we would be, but dear god the whole exchange process with 7 folk in a chain takes forever... The cottage we plan to move to is a project - and that is putting it kindly - but I'm trying to not to dwell on the thought of moving in - then out - then in again and all the stuff in between. As someone who can obsess over choosing a lamp for a day - the thought of having to select windows, bathrooms, an entire kitchen, floors, light fittings and tiles makes me a tad nauseous. I may well end up drowning myself in the stream at the bottom of the garden before it is done...

Now that Sproglet is 11 and less sprog and more teen - I'm all too aware of how quickly the years pass. A moment ago he was born...  In my head, I'm a new mother... And yet, I watched as him as he trudged out of his primary school on hot July day and burrowed his head into my shoulder, and sobbed. I watched as he struggled to put on a tie on his first day at secondary school, lifted a bag greater than his own weight and threw on a blazer fit for a giant. Every day he needs me less and less... It suddenly hits you - how for so long you crave a moment to yourself, how you wish that the early years were less relentless, less demanding - but when that moment comes, you feel wildly redundant...

As I tentatively began to pack, I wandered down the stairs to our basement - and looked at the markings we have left at the top stair, all the way up the wall - where we have measured our children's heights since we moved in, way back in 2008. It's messy and hard to read, but it captures time so beautifully. Now we must leave it behind.

So every morning, as we hunt for spider webs and marvel at the intricate detail on each one, I appreciate the moment. All too soon Sproglette will be walking to school on her own, my days of the school the run will be over.





Friday, 3 November 2017

Call Me By Your Name

Some moments in life are completely unforgettable. Rights of passage that define us, shape us, change us forever. Falling in love for the first time, is one of those moments - and joyously we get to experience it all over again in the glorious film, Call Me By Your Name.

There are shades of Bertoluccio's Stealing Beauty in this tale of a long hot summer 'somewhere in Italy.' Director Luca Guagagnino creates such tension between 17 year old Elio, the son of an archaeology professor and the charismatic American intern who comes to work for his father - that the build up to their first kiss is beyond thrilling.

The camera follows Elio's every move, as he dances around the creaking Italian house, splashes in the stone pool and transcribes music - all the while watching his object of desire. As he falls in lust, then love - we accompany him every step of the way. I could almost taste the smoke as Elio puffed on a cigarette, his eyes never leaving Oliver dancing up a storm to cheesy 80s music. Timothee Chalamet's face is exquisite - his angst, pain, desire and wonder all transparent as he grows up before our very eyes. His performance is breath taking. The final credits - no spoilers here - are mesmerising. As is his Father's incredible speech right at the end. My only regret is being unable to write it down myself as a life lesson I wish for my own children.

What elevates this coming of age story in a pretty country with lots of academic bi-lingual types languishing in the sun - is the space Guagagnino gives to the story... He lets us wait alongside Elio, on tenterhooks, desperate for interaction with handsome Oliver - played by the dashing white toothed Armie Hammer to perfection. I left the cinema feeling totally alive - and at the same time in mourning that my youth had passed. Moreover, it made me wistful: for a time when love was all encompassing, when you thought a broken heart would never ever mend.

In one scene Oliver and Elio in a dusty plaza circle each other around a war monument - having circled each other for weeks. The honesty and bravery of this scene haunts me... As Elio's mother asks when she reads a German fable: Is it better to speak or to die?

The answer of course is always to speak - even at a time where such love dare not speak it's name. Give yourself a trip down memory lane and see this film... easily the most stunning and affecting film of the year. 

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Lovely Bones

A week ago I gathered with people I had known for 20 years. People who started their careers in TV at the same time I did - filled with unbridled enthusiasm, wildly optimistic - the world was our oyster.

We gathered to pay our respects at the funeral of the kindest, warmest of us all. The crematorium was bursting with those who wanted to be there for Emma, taken from her beautiful family far too soon at the age of 42.

I watched as her closest friend, an Irish woman who I have watched weather all storms, with a mere tilt of her chin, a shrug and a 'sure it'll all be grand' make the most beautiful and poignant speech. She looked fragile, heart broken, ashen. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs that this was all so fucking wrong and Emma should be here with us all, enjoying the craic, choosing great music, bringing her always happy, always smiling always positive personality.... I literally expected her to walk in at any second. She may be gone, but she will never ever be forgotten - the woman with the biggest smile, the kindest heart.

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Years ago at my 30th birthday my friend Philippa have me the book 'The Lovely Bones' and I sobbed my heart out reading it. The last line is 'I wish you a long and happy life.' I took for granted that that is what we all got. We were indestructible. We would live forever. This week, having not seen Philippa for about 10 years, she texted me that she had seen an ex of mine had just died... She wondered how I was. I guess people thought I would be sad, mentally back in the 90s... But having gathered with all those I knew in the 90s the week before, I was already there... back when everything  felt possible, when life felt infinite, when it was all to play for....

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I'm writing this at 5:30 am - I can't sleep. Rage curses through me. Someone close to me is battling cancer - the dreaded C word - and it feels a never ending battle. This little cell that comes to rest, uninvited, unwelcome. It makes itself at home, the secret that you have yet to discover. Then you do, and so the battle begins... I can't imagine the fear, can't contemplate the bravery it takes to get through such an illness - with resolute belief that you will survive, you will not let it win. How can someone be just going about life and then all of a sudden - wham - life will never be the same again?

I'm trying to get my head around it all - that each day is precious, that health is a gift, life a blessing not a right - but if this rage would only subside then maybe I could feel that. Nothing feels simple any more. Normally I throw out a blog post in seconds, but now... I stare at the screen and just feel numb. I keep thinking over my own life - was I a good person? Was I kind? Did I hurt anyone? Did I tell those I love that I do... Did I take the wrong path, am I still on it? Am I raising my family well? What the hell is it all about? Why is life so unfair?

If any of you have words of wisdom, please feel free to share. And of course, I wish you all a long and happy life.

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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

#metoo

There isn't a woman alive who hasn't at some point felt sexually harassed. From comments about 'filling out in all the right places' from creepy relatives as a child, to having strangers grab your backside on a tube, to outright assault - the range of behaviour begins when we are barely more than children and lasts all our lives.

There are almost too many to list - but I remember some boys shoving their hands up my school skirt as I looked in a shop window aged 13. I had a man photograph me without my consent on the tube; a cab driver stroke my leg; a bar owner corner me in the freezer room; drunk men grope me as I passed them glass collecting aged 15; a man masturbate in front of me on a beach in Greece; a colleague called Dimitri press on my breasts to see if they were 'firm' the day I told my colleagues at Quiz TV (in front of my boss in fact) that I was pregnant with my son. He previously told me that he knew I was pregnant as 'your tits are huge.'

The strange thing is, I have been so conditioned to all of this - that I somehow made it my problem. I saw the fact I had a big chest as something to be ashamed of and so always wore polo necks, sweaters, baggy T shirts - anything to distract from my curves. I even bought a T shirt that had in tiny writing 'I'm up here' across the chest, so as all gawpers were shamed.

My first job in television made me see that the only way to survive in the industry was to accept the vile sexism masked under 'laddish jokes.' A channel famed for a dwarf man bouncing on a trampoline to stick the weather symbols on a map and 'Nudes at Ten' was perhaps not the best way to be taken seriously as a journalist - but I was thrilled to finally get a job. I loved reading the news in front of a man in a 6 foot rabbit costume, reporting from premieres and rushing all over London - working with a lot of decent enthusiastic and brilliant people. One of whom was not my boss - Kelvin MacKenzie. I made a joke about trying to take News Bunny to the Oscars - 'I had two hopes and Bob was the better one' which sadly Kelvin didn't get. So he asked Nick Ferarri to fire me - but in the confusion they almost fired another Irish girl. I was summoned to Ferarri's office where he suggested I wrote an apology letter to placate Kelvin as I wept...  Ferrari told me to start it: 'Kelvin you are not only my boss, but my hero.'

I will never forget my news editor Andy Beat helping me write it as I sobbed, terrified I would lose my job. Andy was livid - but what could he do? Meanwhile another boss never made eye contact - staring instead at my chest. Mark Murphy told me - despite securing the first interview with Stella McCartney after her debut Chloe show in Paris 1997 - that "you don't have the right look to present the fashion show." I asked what he was looking for and he replied, "you know someone with personality." I pressed further - aghast at this. He then answered: "We are looking for a model. Not you." I was humiliated, axed from the Fashion Show and made to produce a series of 'Topless Darts at the Circus' or I would be fired. I sobbed over my computer. Again. I had no choice. So I hired great costumes from Angels in Shaftesbury Avenue and tried to make the women feel like showgirls - instead of merely pawns in the channel's pathetic remit.

Women who worked at the channel were expected to enjoy the male banter - be one of the lads, in order to gain acceptance - something I never did. I respected and liked many people there - usually folk who like me, were just so grateful to get their first job in telly - but the atmosphere was toxic. The boss men had their favourites - women in push up bras who played the dumb blonde role - simply for an easier life.

I remember blagging my way into a Bond Premiere and securing (through blatantly lying) interviews with Pierce Brosnan and Judy Dench etc. Live made a special TV show out of it - but instead of congratulating me Ferarri only asked why I hadn't asked Brosnan about his recently deceased wife... The men were congratulated - the women never so. I couldn't wait to escape. I often wondered - would all TV be like this?

I learnt later on that the culture of fear that pervades TV insures that women put up with so much - simply because of the freelance nature of the job. If they speak up against a sexist presenter or overly handsy producer - what hope do they have of ever working for that independent production company again? I remember other friends being livid that in the office at another company, the male staff had a 'wall of punani' filled with photos of scantily clad women. I heard stories all the time of various lechy comments from bosses, filled with promises of what they would do for the woman in question's career.... I have had men bosses tell me that with my 'assets' I would 'go far' as they stare directly at my chest. I always felt I had to prove I had a brain - because by simply having curves, somehow that diminished me.

In later years I worked with a director who told me off for admitting I got the T shirt I was wearing free with a magazine; but allowed the male presenter to simulate sex with the producer as a 'joke' or make any kind of innuendo laden joke he chose to - because clearly he had one rule for men and one for how women should behave. I can honestly say I never suffered sexism or harassment when I moved into TV drama - perhaps because by then I was 35 and a mother of one...

This is all small scale in light of what the women of Hollywood have gone through at the hands of Harvey Weinstein - but the revelations at last mean we having a dialogue that should have been opened a long time ago. The culture of TV has forced women to be silent. To accept that our bodies will be the butt of male humour, that if we don't laugh along with sexist jokes then we are not one of the gang. It is time we were able to stand up for ourselves without recourse. Without fear. Only then, do we have the faintest hope that something may, finally change.

Then the dinosaurs, or rather predators, like Harvey can happily become extinct.






Monday, 16 October 2017

Winter wish list...

A good friend just got back from a weekend in Edinburgh with her girlfriends. She'd had a ball, but also got a bit of a wake-up call. Dressed to the nines, standing in a queue to a deeply fashionable club in the heart of the city, she'd got chatting to the girls next to her. They too sported cool trainers, a splash of lipstick and a smokey eye. My mate Jess got round to asking how old these new buddies were, only to be stunned when they said they were 24. To add insult, one girl squealed out that Jess and her mates looked surprisingly young, as 'My Mum is your age.' Eek. In one moment Jess realised that her clubbing days were over - she was less club kid, more bar fly these days... To compound this realisation, when they entered the club, the singer on the stage was none other than the lead singer from late 80s early 90s band Black Box and she belted out their big hit : Ride on Time. Yup, the only folk who knew or indeed cared about this face were Jess and her gang...

There comes a moment in every woman's life - when you realise certain things have to stop: metallic mini skirts (maybe not the best idea at any given time), showing cleavage and towering heels. When Christmas wish lists are no longer filled with things like 'Agent Provocateur' underwear and glam accessories -  instead you want Ugg slippers or a decent pair of gloves. Sure, I still look at fetching heels in Selfridges shoe section - but then I remind myself - I don't have the life to go with these beauties any more...

Shivering on the side of the football pitch last weekend, watching through sleeted rain as my six year old daughter got covered in mud while her team thrashed the other side, I made my own mental wish list for things that my life now required. Clue: none were bits of stringy lace disguised as 'underwear.' I came home and spent the rest of the afternoon avoiding laundry by simply having to find the perfect winter coat. Not too wide and bulky - I don't want to look like the Michelin woman. Waterproof and with a hood, so I can bear to be beside a football pitch cheering on as the heavens pour onto me... Something with a flattering cut, that will cut out the piercing windchill in ice cold February... But finding something like this proved to be the holy grail.

Until I came across Tresspass. Now, I will confess, I hadn't come across this site before - but low and behold - there was my perfect coat. A down coat to keep me cosy - padded to lock in heat - but still flattering (rare in the case of a down coat) - long enough to keep my legs warm too. A hem drawcord to lock out that bitter winter wind and water resistant to boot! Now, we all know that buying online is a bit of a gamble - things sometimes don't turn out to be anywhere near as good, once postie has delivered them (Hello anything you have mistakenly bought because some size zero model blogger aged 25 looked ace in it - of course she does, she is TWENTY FIVE) - but on this occasion my hopes of finding THE perfect school run winter coat have been surpassed. I put in on and didn't feel like I had been zipped into a stiff sleeping bag. It was comfy, roomy and beyond warm. I'm almost - but not quite - excited about the winter weather approaching, just to try this baby out and see what extremes it can handle. The other great thing is Tresspass appear to have clearance sales so there are bargains to be had. Get ye along there pronto!

Whilst I am still coveting a fetching cashmere camel coat for a life that I led about 15 years ago (certainly pre kids) I am convinced that between the two, I know which coat is going to see more action this winter. Here is a fetching photo of the coat, on a lady who is not me, but wears my 'can't think of any place I would rather be on a Sunday morning at 8:30am than freezing my butt off by the side of this scabby pitch' face. And she has better hair...





Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Walking like a Walker




It was raining, cold, grey with summer not even a hint on the horizon and my gut told me to stay at home. But the muscles covering said gut aren't exactly a rippling six pack, so I got my arse off the sofa and headed to my usual Monday HIIT class. My back had been giving me a bit of gyp - ever since I had painted my garden trellis a fetching shade of grey the week before, (Is there ever a more middle class statement uttered than the above?) but I thought I was in good enough shape to go.

We were almost through the class, when I was turning mid jump, to perfect the stance once assumes before they do a burpee, when I felt something judder in my back. Dear god the pain. I hobbled out of the class and attempted to stretch my back out on a machine by hanging over it - but then discovered I couldn't quite get up. Or stand. Almost crying, I asked a trainer I know for help and the next thing I know I'm lying sprawled out in the middle of the gym as a handsome carved from marble, physio is manipulating me into all kinds of positions. Not quite what I had expected to happen by ten am on a Monday... It would have been all kinds of good except I couldn't move without searing pain in my lower back. Physio explained it was all due to tight muscles in other areas but all I could think was, how the feck am I getting home? He was pressing my back, hard on my buttocks (oh yes, there was no shame from me - I've had two kids, and frankly I would have sold them if he had promised he could make my back pain go away in that instant) and up my thighs. 

I managed to stand but couldn't walk further than a few metres, so husband had to collect me and drop me at the chiropractor. After more manipulation he told me to walk home. I tried. But ended up clinging to a lamppost and howling in pain. An old man of about 90 offered to help me, but bless him I think if I had lent on him I would have taken us both down.

Husband picked me up and I haven't really moved from two rooms since. I am in agony. I can't sit, stand or lie without being in pain. When I attempt to walk I am bent over to one side, not unlike a Walker on the Walking Dead. Which is the only form of comfort of having such an injury. It means I have to take it easy and tear through as many seasons as is humanly possible.

It almost makes me wish for a Zombie apocalypse - but only if handsome Rick would be on hand to save me. Who knew Andrew Lincoln was so HOT? I'm so deeply invested in the group that if Maggie or Glen or Daryl (swoon) die I may never recover. It is unbelievably tense from the get-go. 

Rick wakes up in hospital to discover the world is not as he knew it. He heads for his house - finds it empty and eventually turns towards the city, looking for his wife and son. I can barely stand to look at the screen because I am so scared a Walker will sink their jaws around Rick's neck and turn him into one of them... The action is nail biting, the script sharp and the acting first class. WHY have I never got into it before?

It almost makes having agonising back ache worth it. Must run - season 4 about to start.... WHOOP. 

Monday, 1 May 2017

Vulnerable isn't a dirty word.

Recently a friend recommended this Ted talk on Vulnerability. I've been having a bit of a rocky time of late and she wanted to find some words of inspiration for me, some comfort. In essence the idea is those who are able to be vulnerable, to be seen, not matter how afraid, ashamed and fearful - experience the most joy in life. Those who show their vulnerability tend to be those who feel they are worthy of love, who feel they are 'enough.'

It's an interesting concept, one I have been pondering on, because lately I've felt about as far from good 'enough' as possible. I've felt like the last kid to be picked for the team, the girl who sits on the bench at the dance, the woman who stands alone in the middle of a huge party, as the clock chimes midnight on NYE. Deep down, I don't think I'm good enough to be a writer as a profession and my waking moments are spent waiting to be 'found out.' Each set of notes sent back to me break me out in a sweat, a fear that I won't know how to fix anything, that my well of ideas and solutions will run dry, that I'll be taken off the script and finally, at last the truth will be confirmed - that I am NOT good 'enough.'

What should be a joyful and fun experience, instead becomes one of absolute misery. I turn myself inside out with stress, fretful of failing, not earning, surviving, fashioning another career out of rubble. I send myself loopy. 

When I left my full-time job back in 2014 I didn't feel that afraid. I felt relief. Finally, I was able to parent my kids and even though I had precious little time to write while my daughter was at nursery, I felt sure everything would be ok. I threw myself into writing trials for shows and writing a spec script and just loved it all. I felt the fear and did it the heck anyway. Maybe I felt I had nothing to lose, I can't remember. All I know is that I had a sense of everything working out - a true gut feeling...

And it did. 

Until it didn't. The company that had been using me regularly decided out of the blue not to any more - no word of warning, no chance at redemption, no hint of this previously - just BOOM - you are gone. Like a rug pulled from under your feet. Yes, yes... this is the life of a writer people say.... but that doesn't make it easier. Not one jot. 

All of a sudden, it feels like starting again. The sheer terror of attempting to drag my confidence off the floor again is crippling. I look at my kids' faces, as they innocently ask for things and I feel enormous pressure to provide - this overwhelms me - which ironically is about as far away from feeling creative as you can get. I've really struggled with my sense of worth, whether or not I'm capable and all the shame that accompanies such feelings. 

This all feeds the monster that is anxiety, until he grows so tall, you can't see anything - least of all any light. It's made me want to hide away, to not see friends, to not face the world - because I worry my inadequacy is written across my face. It has honestly been mentally exhausting. Every time this year I have had one tiny piece of good news, within the space of a few days, something has happened to knock that back - or to throw another huge curveball my way. I tell myself I'm robust, I can cope, I'm an Aries for gawds sake. But it's like the car is trying run on no gas... The fire in my belly has gone out. A friend told me to write my way out of it... this haze, this grey time. It reminded me I used to write here all the time... and in doing so I never felt alone. I always felt supported... It was ok to be vulnerable, to not know the answers, to fuck up. Because you lot were doing it too.... Being vulnerable here on my blog, felt safe. 

Watching the programme last week on 'Mind over Marathon' - where 10 people with mental health issues ran the London marathon - reduced me to tears. The courage these folk had, running for 'Heads Together' charity humbled me. But it also made me realise that it is so good to talk about feeling down, feeling as if we have failed, about not feeling 'good enough.' There is no shame in it. Trying to hide it, wearing a mask pretending all is just hunky dory when inside we are a mess, is what makes everything a million times worse. 

So I'm trying to work through this time - the one where I wake at 5am every day in a panic that I am doomed - the one where my heart races all the time and I can't eat. The one where I am reduced to tears in a heartbeat, where I doubt myself to my core and where I have lost all faith. Part of me tells myself in a thick Irish accent to 'dry yer eyes and get on with it...' - that there is no problem a cup of tea and hug from a buddy won't solve. I take wisdom from my children's films and as Dory says, I just keep swimming. I'll let you know when I get to the other side....