Thursday, 23 October 2014

Fair enough.

Me interviewing a nurse. Honest, he is a nurse.

I climb into a taxi in Cambridge, having just interviewed some nurses for the film I'm making, on my way back to the station, and the person who commissioned the film is talking to me. Just her voice. No actual body. 

She says, it's all about transparency… measurably… what are we doing well? How do we know? 

Yep, I think, I have that recorded, at least one of my nurses said that, and much more besides. Phew. Thanks.

She's talking on BBC Five Live, the taxi driver is listening to it. But I very nearly met her in the flesh last week, we had a meeting in central London but then she had to go and see The Secretary of State instead at the last minute, about that strike, you may have read about it, I ended up meeting her second in command. Fair enough.

People ring in to the radio programme to talk about nursing. I want to join in. I want to say nurses are amazing. I want to say we should all re-train to be nurses because it's the best job in the world. 

This might be because I've just interviewed 12 of them, and a midwife, in the last week or so, for the narrative part of the film, all over the country, and they have been an inspiring, enthusiastic, smiling, upbeat bunch. There has been a lot of laughter along the way, and there have been tears. Both mine and theirs. 

And this is because in almost every case there's been a moment of interviewing gold: an anecdote that bubbled up from the depths that I wasn't expecting, that the nurse herself (or himself) didn't anticipate telling me. 

In these moments the room becomes hushed and I lean in, keeping that all-important eye-contact, nodding like fury so the story keeps flowing, without my own voice chipping in and spoiling it all...

A Polish health care worker who was homeless when he came to Britain and slept on a park bench. He told me how he felt when his baby was born, in the same hospital where he was compassionately tending to his patients several floors below, and when I asked, so what's the best thing about your job, then? a job he clearly loves, he said it is his patients and being indoors in the warm, with a roof over his head. That's also fair enough.

There was a nurse whose own mother died many years ago, of cancer, who told me her mother's last words to her were to be a good nurse, to care for people, to never lose her temper, and so to this day she never has. She lets off steam by quietly creeping away in times of stress and shouting at a wall.

And the nurse from Wolverhampton, with the teary eyes and the tissues, who welled up telling me about her elderly patients, explaining that she wanted to work in elderly care because she nursed her own grandmother when she was a child. 

Dynamite stuff. I just hope I can squeeze all the best heartfelt bits into the film without compromising the message.

And the interview days haven't passed without incident either. One lovely nurse had a car accident on her way to meet me in Leeds. She was shaken up, understandably, she needed to calm her nerves and drink a cup of tea, and then she did the interview nevertheless, like a trouper.

And the handsome male nurse who works in ICU (Intensive Care Unit to you and me). Tall, gorgeous arms like massive hams, dark hair, twinkly eyes, served as a medic in Afghanistan... He was late because his wallet was stolen out of his back pocket on the bus and he had to
 give chase.

"Gosh, how awful!" I said, "So did you manage to get it back?"

"Oh yeah," came the quiet reply.

That one really is fair enough, and yet another reason to love nurses.

Love E x


Friday, 10 October 2014

Let sleeping teens lie.

Could we be part of this study in which 33,000 teenagers are allowed a lie-in, please? Apparently, thousands of 14 - 16 year-olds are to be given the chance of a lie-in and later start to the school day to access the impact on their educational achievement.*

I’ve long thought that we drag children out of bed too early for school in this country, probably in all countries. We’re not all early birds. While small children routinely wake at the crack of dawn (in my experience) things change entirely the minute they hit puberty (in my experience), when suddenly you can no longer get them out of bed for love nor money, or even for a free go on Minecraft. Now I know this is because a teenager's circadian rhythm typically begins two hours after an adult's, which means we are waking them too early. 

I must suffer from arrested development then - a teenager in woman's body - not a morning person at all, never have been. No one on my side of the family is. My brother can sleep for Britain. My parents must be the only OAPs not to know what dawn looks like. 

When I was a teenager I got myself up early on a Saturday morning and a friend’s dad drove my friend and me to our 9.00 am pottery class at the local Art College (stop sniggering at the back, I was good at pottery), where I bought a Mars or a Marathon bar at the tuck shop for breakfast at break time (friend and I ran the tuck shop especially for this purpose), as my parents slept on in bed at home.

For modern parents, Husband and I included, weekends are just another morning when we must get up and run around making children breakfast and looking for items of clean sports kit. However many times I tell the boys not to ask me where things are before 9.00 am, they still do it and I find myself head first in a manky laundry bin looking for a crumpled P.E. top most weekday mornings, and quite a few weekend ones too. “Sort it all out the night before!” I yell at them. That’s what I did when I was a teenager. I had all my things laid out on the chair ready. I would PLAN what I was going to wear. I would PACK my bag in advance. I would even make my OWN packed-lunch the night BEFORE. All from the age of 11.

The boys stare at me blankly. These are very different times, molly-coddle-them-to-death-children-come-first-they-are-the-centre-of-our-universe times. It’s less a matter of children fitting in around the adults, as we did when I was young, and more a matter of are the little darlings okay? Have they got enough to eat? Are they warm enough? Do they need a lift? A jumper? A clean shirt? A new electric guitar because the old one isn’t good enough? They MUST have it all. NOW.

New electric guitar because the old one wasn't good enough.

Husband didn’t have this sort of childhood: he went to boarding school. Consequently he still rises at the break of day, every single day, thankful that he doesn’t have a layer of ice on his bedsheets and a prefect with a redhot poker standing over him. He's very alert in the morning. Preternaturally alert. He TALKS to me. I can’t tell you the number of times he's asked me questions about the day ahead as I stand in the shower lathering up my hair. I need to have the words DON’T SPEAK TO ME BEFORE NINE AM tattooed somewhere on my body to remind him. Full frontal.

Anyway, I don’t begrudge the boys all the mollycoddling, not really. I like spoiling them. I told them that the other day when we were all in the living room watching The Great British Bake Off together: “You boys are the best thing in my life,” I said, before realising I might be offending Husband and turning to add that I was including him in this. But there was no need to worry. He was fast asleep with his mouth open. He wakes up too early.

Love E x


*Research from The Guardian 09.09.14 - £700,000 project involving 106 schools and 32,000 teenagers lead by Dr Paul Kelley at Oxford University's Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Hospital appointment.

I’m in a hospital waiting room reading a book in which the character is sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, just one of life’s little coincidences, I suppose. This is the book…

I’m bang on time for my appointment. I am told there is only one person ahead of me in the queue. I will be next, the smiling nurse says. She is silver haired and solicitous.

I tell myself this is fine. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. I have my book and my laptop and plenty of cash to pay for the car park and the boys have a key to let themselves in at home, so let them take as long as they like - see if I care.

But the thing is I do care because the waiting area is packed and low-ceilinged and hot and after two chapters of my book, a trawl through my emails, and a time check - 40 minutes - I can feel impatience rising up in me like acid up a litmus strip.

There’s a crying toddler to my right and an elderly lady giving her companion a run-down of her current ailments behind. I don’t want to be here. I am not an ill person. I have no intention of being an ill person. I don’t want to be near any ill people: it might be contagious.

The nice nurse appears again, she’s very sorry but someone has had to go in before me even though it is not his turn, this is because he is a prisoner. 

I hadn’t noticed him before but now I see him to my left and I am not really sure how I missed him. He is shaven haired, tattooed, and shackled to a guard with a large pair of silver handcuffs.

I watch the duo shuffle awkwardly past me out of the waiting area, onwards and outwards to the sunny uplands of the doctor’s consulting room.

I briefly glimpse the doctor inside as his door opens and sharply closes again. The glimpse is just long enough to discern that he is young and tall and handsome and possibly slightly sweaty of forehead (well he would be, wouldn’t he?). These are all things I like in a doctor, bar the sweat - actually even including the sweat. 

I hope I get that doctor when it’s my turn, I think. But I don’t. Because after an hour has gone by, when I completely give in and go up to the desk and ask politely when I will be seen, I'm told this is the wrong clinic, that a mistake has been made, I should have been given an appointment for the allergy clinic, this is ENT, so sorry, you will have to come back another day.

And what do I then? What do I do with that bitter impatience? I say, okay, well, that’s quite annoying because I’ve just waited for ages and someone could have told me before but, you know, I know it’s not THEIR fault and, never mind, actually thank you for letting me know and, well…

Because above all I want to appear reasonable, likeable, healthy, something set apart from the sickness around me.

And then I walk out of the hospital building, past the infirm in the corridors, the children and babies and mothers and old folk and those wheeled around on gurnies or wheelchairs, right out of the main entrance, past the M&S where tired nurses and anxious relatives are buying biscuits and wine, past an open window from where a small child suddenly cries out, on without stopping to the car park and my car, where I fling open the door and dive into the driver’s seat and sit for a moment and think: I am so glad to be well, and free. 

Love E x


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Writers have no imagination. Discuss.

“You need to read this review of the new Tennessee Williams biography,” says Husband, walking into the bedroom with my customary morning cup of tea and the Saturday papers tucked under his arm, “it explains a lot.” 

A few nights before Husband and I had attended the live screening of A Streetcar Named Desire, beamed straight from the Young Vic Theatre into our local cinema, and he still hasn’t got over it. He only gallantly agreed to attend because a group of my mum-friends were taking their touchy-feely husbands along with them and there’s a limit to the number of invitations my non-touchy-feely one feels he can refuse.

I loved it. Gillian Anderson was amazing. That woman can act. Hers was an utterly mesmerising Blanche DuBois, plus a triumph of memory and stamina. So much so that when I got home I googled her to see if she has children (surely not) and she does. Three! AND now I know where the line, “Stella!” comes from, which our two older boys have been shouting to each other recently in high-pitched, strangulated tones before collapsing into hysterics. (Referenced from the play in both Sienfeld and The Simpsons, I think.)

Husband didn't enjoy it quite so much. In fact, as the play progressed, with Blanche unravelling inch by painful inch, his fidgeting and eye-rolling correspondingly intensified so that by the time we reached the play's denouement (it was long), with Blanche carted off stage to the looney bin, Husband had assumed the air of someone who needed to be congratulated for having borne a terrible ordeal.

“Congratulations,” I said, as we stood up and stretched our cramping limbs in front of the rolling credits, “you made it to the end without falling asleep.” And then I said I wondered what had happened to Tennessee Williams that he should want to write such a play. But Husband wasn’t listening to this, he was muttering darkly about P G Wodehouse. “Give me any day,” I think he said. What Ho Jeeves! was the last play we saw together in the West End. And by the way I still haven’t forgiven Stephen Mangan for being ill that night.

I don't know anything about Tennessee Williams, despite having an English degree, (it’s surprising how little you can get away with reading on an English Literature degree course and still manage to obtain a degree at the end of it. I can vouch for this), but I was willing to bet that something of T.W.’s own life had found its way into that play. Not that all writers draw inspiration from their own lives. And I can vouch for this too, because when I was about fifteen I wrote a play about a teenage girl with an alcoholic mother and a criminal father, who was left to bring up her band of squabbling siblings alone. There weren’t a lot of laughs in it, as I recall. 

For some unknown reason that play won a competition, probably because there wasn’t much, competition that is, and the prize was that it should be performed by proper actors at the local arts centre. During the rehearsals, which I was invited to attend and where I developed massive crushes on all the male actors who happened to cross my path (plus ca change, see Stephen Mangan), the playwright in residence pulled me aside to inform me earnestly that all writers write what they know, before cocking his head to one side and waiting, presumably for my emotional floodgates to open.

They didn't. I fixed him straight in the eye and I told him I’d made it all up, and watched the disappointment steal across his face. For a moment I thought he might actually snatch my prize from me, cancel the upcoming performance, and escort me from the premises, but he didn’t: he merely dug a little deeper...

Yes, but were my parents divorced? No. Did I have siblings like the character in my play? Yes, but only one younger brother, and he wasn't a cripple. Did my mother work? Yes. Ah! She’s a teacher. Oh. What about my father? He works too. What does he do? He’s at the university. At the university? Yes. He’s an academic? Yes. What subject? Sociology. Sociology! That’s it! The playwright was delighted. Apparently it explained everything. It probably still does.

Any road up, as they say where I come from, I read the review of the biography, by John Lahr, about "a playwright whose work was entirely and pitilessly autobiographical," as I sipped my tea in bed, and it turns out that T. W. came from Mississippi, just like Blanche and Stella in the play, and that his mother was Edwina, a ‘southern belle’, who married beneath herself and was prone to hysterical outpourings and that his sister, Rose, suffered from mental illness and got carted off to the looney bin from time to time. So maybe that writer in residence was right? A bit.

Now, where did I put that manuscript I’ve been working on? The one about the middle-aged mum, trapped at home in South London, blogging her way out of obscurity.

Love E x

Here's The Times review that Husband was referring to. You won't be able to read it unless you subscribe to the paper online so I've also pasted one from The Independent as well.



Tuesday, 16 September 2014


Milk and one. Milk and two. Milk and three. Milk and four. Strong and black. Strong and white. Black with no. Just some water. Do you have fizzy? Have you got a biscuit to go with that, love? Hahahahaha. 

Directed at my boobs not at my face. Flirting. Joking. Friendly. Moody. Condescending. Sarcastic. Lying. Educated. Rude. Polite. Not educated. Good English. Bad English. Helpful. Not helpful. White. Black. British. Polish. Italian. English. Crap at spelling.

Late. Postponed. No reply. Just coming. On the way. Terrible traffic. Looks bad. Worse than I thought. Cost you more. What a comedian. Parking permit. Bum crack. Beer belly. Dirty boots. Loose rubbish dumped in the bin/garden/road. Just nipping out for supplies...

If any of that is familiar then you too have had builders in. I've had a bellyful in the last year. I could write a book. Lucky for you this is only a blog post, but still, you can count it as therapy. My therapy. For free.

Builders at the top of our garden having a nice sit down.

Are we unlucky or are all workmen in London unreliable porky pie merchants who can't look you in the eye and tell you the truth for toffee? Or even for a nice sweet cup of tea and a load of tax-free cash stuffed in an envelope?

Maybe that's a bit strong, like most of the tea I've been brewing. I know I annoyed someone by writing that all builders are wankers on Facebook recently but in my defence I was at the end of my tether, and I'm not even friends with any builders on Facebook, unless some of my 'friends' are moonlighting behind my back, which they could be I suppose because God knows there's money in it. Loadsamoney.

On that particular occasion a builder had just decided to charge us extra for tidying up the mess he made of our neighbour's wall. He'd already been paid a princely sum for the job which, it turned out, took him only a couple of hours and not the whole day he had predicted. So did he reduce his price? Did he hecklers like: he charged us more.

And that is a mere trifle compared to some of the cock ups, like getting the main load-bearing steel wrong for the new kitchen extension. Twice. And lying about it. To the building inspector. And us. Or laying a concrete floor that wasn't level and didn't set properly so it all had to come up, all 50 square meters of it, back through the front door because we live in a terrace. I reckon most of that floor is still in my lungs, which is why I succumbed to asthma at the time and have since had a bad bout of bronchitis.

And then there was the decorator who was engaged to paint the woodwork on the front of our house, who out-sourced the job without telling us, didn't watch what was going on, and was responsible for all our beloved Virginia Creeper being ripped off while we were away, when we expressly asked for it to stay, and then the front door key went missing. When I asked for the key back pronto in a text message, he sent an instant reply that said… actually I'll copy and paste you exactly what it said because it's priceless - 

"Key, no, need to pick up from epsom hospital. The last decorator had an hart atack on Sunday he has it on his key ring with him… Will getnit back as soon as visiting hours are alawed." 

All sic by the way, and English is his first language. He comes from Guildford. He went to a private school.

The good news is we are nearly at the end of it all, for now. We moved into this house seven years ago and are nearing completion of the first pass: where every inch will finally have been painted, carpeted, mended, wired, plumbed or generally renovated and brought up to scratch at least once. And then we will need to start again with what we did at the beginning. 

And finally, after all those builders and scaffolders and roofers and plumbers and electricians and carpenters, we have just hit upon someone who is actually good. Really good. Someone who ran a tidy team, operating like a silent disco for decorators, all of them listening to Radio 4 individually on their headphones, discreetly creeping from hall to stair to landing, brushes softly stroking walls in unison with glistening pristine emulsion, who when I asked if they wanted a cuppa variously replied: not really, no thanks, that's okay, er, do you have any Red Bush at all?

I have glimpsed the future of workmen and it has no workmen in it. It is a future that is tidy, reliable, quiet, intelligent, considerate, not in the least flirty and tidies up after itself at the end of the day. A future in which, if you put a pile of washing on the bottom of your stairs to go up, one of them notices and takes it up for you. Yes, that's right, you guessed it: it's a team of work-women. The future, my friend, is FEMALE to a man.

E x 

So shoot me if I'm being sexist I don't care. I am the mother of three sons. They are wonderful. I adore them. Do I ever want them to decorate my hall and stairs? No. 

Newly painted book shelves on the landing.



Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Someone of my close aquaintance gets a job.

The master plan to stay in London for the sake of the children has paid off as one of them lands a full-time job working for a company in Soho for a year. 

I won’t say which one, for all you know I could be talking about Youngest, or Middle One, except of course that the law requires them to be in full-time education. So let’s just say I'm referring to an 18 year-old of my close acquaintance. An 18 year-old who just did very well in his A’ Levels and has decided to take a year off before going to university. One who will not now be lounging around on the sofa all day playing guitar, watching endless re-runs of Top Gear, getting under my feet, deciding to fry himself bacon covered in brown sugar for lunch at four in the afternoon, just after I’ve cleared and swept and put the rubbish out and the dishwasher is quietly humming to itself and I'm having a moment of fleeting domestic satisfaction. So obviously this is an 18 year-old of my very close acquaintance. 

He could be a lodger or a nephew who happens to be living with us because his parents are posted abroad, say, or one of those sad homeless types who comes round selling rubbish cloths and dusters at exorbitant prices on the doorstep and who, out of the goodness of my heart, because I am exactly this sort of impulsive philanthropic Dr. Barnardo-type, I have decided to take in off the street, give bed and board, and allow to raid the family fridge at will. Just use your imagination.

Anyway, I am now free to have such moments described above, all to myself. In fact, I reckon I am freer now I have been since June 1996, when I had my first baby. Sorry, the baby I found on the doorstep and took in. 

Think about it. There are no pre-school children at home. No primary school runs. No children on ‘study leave’ (if ever there was a misnomer that is it), just the hilarious Middle One and Youngest comedy duo, who head off to secondary school together each morning, one nearly 6 foot tall, long hair, loping gait, the other less than half his height, shaggy mop top, cheeky rejoinder, a recent example -  

Me: "And that is the end of my pep talk for today.
Youngest: "I think I missed the beginning."
Me: "Well he can fill you in on the way to school."
Youngest, to his brother, just as door clicks: "Please don't.

And now, of course, there are TWO workers leaving the house: Husband and this 18 year-old I speak of, heading off in the opposite direction, one on his bike, one to the Tube, leaving me to get on with my stuff – lots of staring out of the window then.

No, actually, not so much of the staring at the moment, some real work. And not just writing articles and blogging, which inexplicably those around me don’t seem to regard as work, probably because I can do it in my dressing gown. 

I have some of the other work I do, in fact it's possible I am constrained from mentioning it due to client confidentiality or something, so let’s just say that my lovely mate Pat and I are currently charged with making a stirring video, all hearts and minds stuff, for a very large national organisation dealing in health. Well it's national at the moment, just about.

A Polaroid, remember those? Taken on a shoot with Pat, rather a long time ago.

I think this is the work I am charged with anyway, I'm waiting for the full brief, currently living in that happy limbo when you know you have paid employment, indeed you have spent the fee already in your head, but don’t have to do anything yet. At some point people are going to expect stuff: ideas, emails, recces, etc, and then I will start waking at five in the morning wondering what I have got myself into - but not yet.

Interesting that this 18 year-old I speak of has 
a job working in this same profession and wants to study Film at university in due course, and fortunate that he can take a low paid job on the bottom of the ladder to learn the craft in his gap year because he is still living at home. Things were very different for Husband and I when we first moved to London in the late 80s. Then we struggled to find somewhere affordable to live, taking soul-sapping temping jobs to keep the wolf from the door as, in my case, I tried to find a way in to TV. 

It was a lovely theatrical agent who let me pretend to type in her hilariously ramshackle office, high on the corner of Cambridge Circus there, overlooking the entrance to Leicester Square Tube, who took pity on me and herself - I think she really needed a competent assistant who could actually type - and found a proper job for me to apply for, in publishing, which in due course led to a job at BBC Enterprises, which led to applying for a training attachment as a director in the children’s television department, which led to… well, you get the picture.

First job. At a work do. Even longer ago. Tbh I've only included this because I look nice. 

For a while Husband and I shacked up (his term) in a couple of rooms in large house in Herne Hill. We paid rent in cash, a week in advance, to the live-in landlady who was the mother of a friend from uni. When Husband was posted to France for a year as part of his degree and we had to leave, we did a mid-day flit to avoid paying the whole of the next week's money. I thought we left the place immaculate, but it turned out Husband had left our half-eaten Sunday roast chicken behind in her oven (that's not a euphemism). She wrote to my mother to complain. We knew how to eat well even then. 

And so began a tricky itinerant phase for me, which briefly included moving in to The Royal Free Hospital doctor's wing (I had an ex-boyfriend who was a medic there and he didn't need his room), when my entire 'vinyl' collection got nicked as Husband and a mate left it unattended propping open a door. To be honest I've never got over that.

Because we found it hard so to get established in London, both home-wise and job-wise, Husband and I thought if we ever managed to have a house here, we should cling to it for dear life so our children might be afforded the luxury of living in it while trying to sort themselves out. 

It's nice that occasionally things go according to plan, and very nice that we have one more full year with this 18 year-old of our very close acquaintance. We've grown rather fond of him over the years. Almost as fond, you might say, as if he were one of our own.

Love E x

P.S. Thank you to all you lovely readers, especially the new ones. I try to blog weekly but it's not always on the same day so do keep looking, or follow me on Twitter to find it.