Tuesday, 29 January 2013


Is boredom the last taboo? Sometimes I wonder if it is. It's not something people admit to. You hear plenty of, "Oh my word I'm so busy," or, "I've been that rushed off my feet," or, the one that really makes me want to rip my skin off, "I'm going out so much at the minute I think I'm going to meet myself coming back in again!" (There was a girl at university who used to say this and, not normally a violent person, I was taken aback by the fact that it made me want to kill her.) But you don't often hear people say, "I'm off my head with the tedium of it all," or, "My life is so mind-numbingly humdrum, I can't tell you." 

In fact most people wear their busy-ness like a badge of honour. If you're not frantically, manically, flat-out whirring from one thing to the next, like they are, or like they say they are, they think you're a nobody, a nothing, worthless. Same with social lives. The pathologically hyperactive complain bitterly about being, "Out every night this week," or, "Four nights in a row", when really they're bragging. If you don't like it, don't do it; that's what I think. But maybe that's just me because I hardly go anywhere and am essentially lazy. 

I like nothing more than a night in, curled on the sofa with slippers and the fire on, watching some fab BBC telly with the kids: Africa, Wonders of Life, Supersize Earth, Welcome to India, How to Grow A Planet, Sherlock, The Great British Bake Off, Dirk Gently, Episodes...  None of it remotely boring. (Ok, the last two not just because they are fab telly but because I have huge crush on Stephen Mangan)I say this because I haven't been busy lately, not work-busy, so TV has been playing an even more prominent role than usual. And it's usually pretty prominent.

I am busy cooking and tidying and buying food and washing clothes and booking appointments and trying to get all the broken things mended, of course. As usual. The domestic to-do list is as long as my arm. But that stuff is dull. I have not been work-busy, which, let's face it, is the only busy anyone ever thinks is important, and which saves me from the monotony and from thinking about myself too much, which is what I do when I'm not busy, and which bores me to death.

I did have this feature idea I was touting about from one newspaper to another, which got a lot of interest. I spent a lot of time on that. That wasn't boring. But it didn't go anywhere in the end, so I didn't get any money, which is the ultimate in tedium. So, in desperation I sent a text to lovely TV mate, with whom I did lots of filming this time last year. "Help!" it said, "Going mental. Got any work?" like Yosser Hughes in Boys from the Blackstuff. (Showing my age there.)

Be careful what you wish for, that's what my mother says. Too right. Lovely friend and I made some extremely un-boring videos for a children's publishing company last year, and the year before. All zappy music and perky kids chatting to camera with lots of whip pans and graphics. So that's what I had in mind. But he makes other stuff too, for the Beeb (which is how I met him) and corporate videos, and sometimes things for the NHS. He made a powerful and award-winning little film about safeguarding vulnerable adults.

"Yes!" he replies, "there's work". 


I can help him with another little NHS film: come up with an idea, write the proposal, direct it and then we'll edit it together. "Only thing is", he explains, when he rings me back, "it's not a very accessible subject, quite challenging in fact." 

My ears prick up and my nose start to twitch because I already agreed. "Oh yeees?" I say, "exactly what is the subject then?" 

So he tells me. And so now I'm rather busy, 
very busy in fact, researching all about... bed sores. Yes, you read that right: bed sores. They can be life threatening apparently. And I know I usually include another picture at this point but believe me, you really don't want to know. 

But it's not boring.


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Monday, 21 January 2013

Les Miserables.

There are four miserable people sitting dejectedly around a circular table in the back of a pub. One is busy on his father’s iPhone, the other has his headphones jammed in his ears, the third looks catatonic with boredom and the fourth, Husband, looks exhausted. As usual.

I have already received four text messages apprising me of the situation before I arrive. The first, from Husband, says: “Eldest is driving me mad,” the next three, also from Husband but I’m guessing not by Husband, say: “Mummy I hate it here, I want to go home.” In three different ways.

It is my fault they are here - and it shows. They hate going out, anywhere, and I was the one who suggested we go out for a meal this weekend because I am fed up of being stuck in the house.

“Right!” I said on Thursday evening at the dinner table, because I wanted to warm them up (warming them up is key). “I do NOT want a repeat of the last few weekends when we all stayed in ALL the time and Daddy and I cooked, and then cooked again, and then we washed up and then washed up some more. I want us to go out as a family.” They groaned collectively.

How do other families do it? I am agog at all the pictures on Facebook of happy family outings: cycling, walking, theatre or cinema going and, of late, sledging. I am minded to post something along the lines: 'what the hell!' or, 'please stop showing me your happy family snaps,' or, 'bog off the lot of you'. 

I have this theory that the more children you have, and especially the more male children you have, the harder it is to go anywhere. Not when they’re little, of course, when it’s endless trips to the playground, where you stand around and freeze to death, but once they get big enough to object then you’ve pretty much had it because then they object. All the time.

“We will go to the cinema on Saturday,” I say, because I love going to the cinema and never have anyone to go with. “And we will go for a walk on Saturday or Sunday,” I say, because I love a nice walk, especially in the snow. “And we will also go out for a meal,” I say, “I will book the pub down the road. Everyone says it’s great and you won’t have to go very far.” 

This is also key because of all the things they hate (and there are so many) they particularly hate going on the tube, or for a bus ride, or a long walk, or even in the car sometimes, although this is their favourite option because it involves no effort on their part. 

Youngest says okay to the cinema but no way to the meal. Middle One says no way to the cinema but maybe to the meal, especially if it’s steak and chips. Husband says nothing. Eldest is out. Ah yes, out is different if you are out with your friends, then it is acceptable-out, not family-out, which is unacceptable. Obviously.

On Saturday I try to book Life of Pi at the local arty cinema but it’s not on, it’s only on at the multiplex, which is not so uplifting and will involve driving. So I suggest going to the Odeon on a high street not that far from here (and not that long ago voted the worst high street in Britain), I say we could walk across the common or get a bus. Middle One says it smells of pee there and that the floor is sticky, which is true, I think, or certainly was true the last time I went, which admittedly was a very long time ago. So I abandon the cinema.

“A walk instead!” I say, “in the snow!” But Middle One has only just got home from his morning sport session and needs to relax and Youngest is: "doing something important on the computer," my computer, and Eldest has homework and is going out later, acceptable-out, obviously, with friends. So Husband and I go for a walk. Just us.

But the next day, Sunday, I have something booked. Aha! the pub down the road, for lunch. But then I get a text from a friend: would I like to accompany her to see Les Mis? She has a spare ticket. Would I! So, I shunt the lunch booking on a bit, to later in the afternoon, and go to the arty cinema and sob all through the French revolution (bloody hell it's grim) and meet up with my beloved family at the pub afterwards, which is where you joined me.

And do you know what? I'd love to tell you we had a great time in the end, that they all warmed up and we chatted and smiled and had a laugh together; and it is true that once they had a huge plateful of roast dinner inside them they lightened-up noticeably, even Youngest, who had moaned his socks off for the first ten minutes, but that's not what happened. This is what happened. 

The music was incredibly loud, so we could hardly hear ourselves speak, so we ate without talking and then I shouted across to Husband to order another drink, please, because I'd only had a half, while he had a pint and I was gasping after all that death and destruction in a boiling hot cinema, and the children wanted more coke, and he told me I should get the waitress's attention myself, even though I was still eating, while he had long ago finished, which annoyed me immensely, and Middle One continued to listen to his music and Youngest continued to moan, on and off, and Eldest continued to say not to one word and so I abandoned the idea of a second drink and got up from the table, when the bill arrived, and said I was totally fed up of the lot of them and I was going to walk home by myself, and I left. Yes I did.

I walked home on my own, not with my family, and when I got there I made a nice cup of tea and sat down in front of the fire and thought: right, it's really nice here in our house, I will NEVER, EVER try and get them out of it at the weekend again.

But I bet I will.

Our local common in the snow, where we did not go with our children for a walk.


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Monday, 14 January 2013

Daydream Believer.

Daydreaming, apparently it's good for us, so says the presenter on Radio 4's Today programme, as he ironically wakes me from a wonderful dream (it was erotic, and no I'm not telling). 

Now I know what you're thinking, you can't believe everything you hear on Radio 4 (what!) or everything you read in the paper and often I don't, especially if I wrote it myself, but in this case I'm inclined to believe it because this is something I'm good at; and this does not apply to most things they say are good for us, like exercising or doing crosswords, or eating blueberries. I'm not good at any of those things. Well, I do exercise, I suppose, on my rowing machine, but I wouldn't say I'm particularly good at it, whereas daydreaming - I am bloody brilliant at that. 

Oh look! Something in the garden, I think it's a squirrel... or it might be a cat, oh my word it's a fox. I like foxes, so characterful, so sad-looking... 

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, daydreaming. John Humphrys says it makes us more creative and I'm sure this is true. I've had some of my best ideas while staring out of this window at foxes, the one right here next to my desk

Trees...they are so pretty aren't they? Even in winter, so skeletal and spiky...

But back to daydreaming, which was how I came up with the idea of acquiring that piece of abandoned garden behind ours. If I hadn't been staring out of this window at the foxes bedding down in the long grass and nose-high weeds over there, I would never have come up with that plan to find out who owned it, which led to us leasing it and knocking the fence down and getting rid of all the weeds and having a bigger garden for the boys, all through a bit of daydreaming. 
So, daydreaming - good for me and mine, bad for foxes... 

I wonder where the foxes go when they're not in our garden?

And were it not for daydreaming I would not be able to work because what I do for a 'living' (don't make me laugh) doesn't involve lots of skill or aptitude, like being a teacher or a nurse or an accountant, having to teach or nurse or add numbers together, DOING things in other words. No, what I do, mostly, is make things up. This applies to writing and directing, which is what I do when I can, which admittedly is not often.

So, daydreaming serves me particularly well in this regard because it is handy for both the working periods, when
 I stare out of the window and make things up before typing them as quickly as I can so they don't drift away again out of the top of my head; and the non-working ones, when I just do the first staring out of the window bit, without the second typing it all up bit and which, sadly, tend to massively outweigh the former occasions.

Frankly I don't understand people who don't do it. Recently I interviewed a lot of mums about their hobbies for an article in The Times, one that has yet to see the light of day, one that I'm beginning to think will never see the light of day because the editor who commissioned it has been promoted, moved upstairs to bigger and better things, unlike me, still staring out of the same window... 

Look... it's quite dark already and it's only lunchtime. The sky is so white. Winter, trapped inside, such an introspective season don't you think?

So, where was I?  Oh yes, all these mums I interviewed had one thing in common, whether they ice skated every morning at 6 am before taking the kids to school, or wind surfed every weekend, or played Dungeons and Dragons (really), they didn't like, and I quote, "sitting around doing nothing," it horrified them. They were all, to a man, or rather mum, absolutely terrified of doing nothing, whereas for me that is the aim of the day.

I get up, I get children to school, I go to coffee shops, I wash up, I tidy up, I empty bins and buy food and put washing on and make phone calls and write things at the computer, for money if I can and for no money if not, but as I do all these things I have one ultimate goal in mind: to finish. To put the kettle on, plonk on the sofa with my feet up, surrounded by reading material: newspapers, a book or two, the iPad, and after a while to let it all drop away from me onto the floor and just stare into space...

This is when I take off on flights of fancy: I am sitting on a beautiful empty beach/someone has given me a really well-paid weekly column on a national newspaper/I buy a red soft-top Mini with all the money/George Clooney or Stephen Mangan or Daniel Craig (but only as Bond) knocks on the door in the middle of the afternoon and we have passionate, wordless sex on the sitting room floor, which nobody ever finds out about (yeah, well, it's not just men who fantasise about these things, you know). 

Yep, I would go so far as to say that daydreaming is my absolute favourite thing. Nearly. Except perhaps for sleeping, which inevitably comes very close on its heels. 

Me, staring out of the window at trees, some time ago.


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Tuesday, 8 January 2013


If you have lots of friends you'll live longer, according to a recent survey. It also mentioned orgasms, but I'll just concentrate on the friends thing for now. 

I'm not sure what they mean by a lot. I have about four, (friends that is, not orgasms) so I'm wondering if that's enough. 

I reckon to be popular, really popular, you have to be happy, but to be happy you need to be popular. So there's the rub, as Hamlet might have said, had he cared about such things, which I'm sure he didn't because a.) he had bigger things to fret about, like murder and madness, and b.) he's a character in a play, and did turn out to be a pretty popular anyway; here I am writing about him. 

And that's part of it, isn't it? Not caring. Popular people don't seem to care one way or the other, and that's the knack. 

And have you noticed that the older you get the more you can't be bothered with it? But, because you are old the not caring/ending up popular thing doesn't work because, well, because you're old. 

So, by the time you're, say, my age, for argument's sake, you could have lost a lot of friends along the way, even more than socks, and not really be up to the task of replacing them. And I've lost a lot of socks. 

You could even get quite miserable about it, if you let yourself, and then, because you were miserable, you wouldn't be able to make new friends because who wants to hang out with some miserable old sod? Not that I'm talking about myself here you understand.

But if I were, talking about myself that is, I'd just like to point out that I haven't got loads of friends from way back because there wasn't the technology to keep in touch with people in my day - no mobile phones when I worked in publishing and at the Beeb and as a freelance TV director, and no Facebook. So now, when I google the names of old mates and colleagues, when I can remember them (and I'm not saying I do this, just hypothetically speaking), they're all too old and out of touch to be on there...

Unless they ALL changed their names by deed poll to get away from me because I got old and grumpy, which is possible I suppose. Not that I'm being paranoid or anything. If I did that. Which of course I don't.

And while we are talking about me for a moment I'd just like to say, for the record, that I'd like to be as popular as the next guy, of course I would, but since I'm old now and it would involve lots of effort, which as I say is counterproductive, and I can't be bothered, all that schmoozing and ingratiating and complimenting, I just can't fake it. So that only leaves people I really like, all four of them, or those who have put up with me for so long now that we can sit in comfortable silence together. Or both. And that narrows it down quite a lot. A hell of a lot actually.

I've tried, in the past, you understand, when I had more energy and acting ability, to pick up friends and gather them to me in armfuls, like buttercups. I used to write names and addresses in a flowery Liberty address book (in the days when pens and paper were used for these things) and flick through it looking back at all the ink in there - it would make me feel better, like I really existed, like I was worth something.

But that's not really IT is it? A load of names in a book don't mean nothing. Genuine friendship takes time and commitment and honesty - but mostly time. T I M E. Lots of it. You don't get that from writing someone's name in a book or adding them to your friend requests on Facebook, we all know the real thing when we see it, we read it in the eyes, we're animals after all. I think we can smell sincerity too, we excrete it - like musk.

Anyway, I've been ruminating on this lately because of Twitter - nothing so sure to make you feel insecure and friendless, not that Twitter has got anything at all to do with friends, or popularity, or who you really are - it's all about marketing. And I'm really not the type who should dabble - too needy - but I was persuaded to do so for work and when I got on there, man does it suck you in. 

They're all at it, everyone who's anyone, all the journos I admire and the respected institutions I adore, like the Beeb and the Guardian and the Times and the V & A and Radio 4, the whole bally lot of them, tweeting and twittering and having in-jokes with one another that I don't understand. It's infuriating and intoxicating and totally exhausting. And then you start to watch the numbers...

I only have a hundred followers. Eldest says that's pathetic, as if I need telling. He says Charlie Sheen got a million in 24 hours when he had his nervous breakdown, so I'm working on that. 

And if I keep watching my stats obsessively, as I am at the moment (I had 101 yesterday and woke to only 99 today, two fallen off the bandwagon overnight, why is this? Was it something I said?) and googling old work colleagues, if I did that, I mean, I really don't think the breakdown will be very far off. 

And by the way, I'm @DOESNOTDOIT. Not that I'm asking, or care one way or another, because I have friends. Well, at least four of them.


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Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year's Eve.

She's sitting on the tube looking glam, a young woman in her twenties: glossy lipstick, hair up, heels high enough to rival The Shard, which we later glimpse through midnight firework-fog as we stand outside Somerset House on the north side of the Thames. Somehow she represents all that the night aims to be.

And, I suppose, this is also when we have our first taste of what the evening has in store for us, as we head north into town on the train and a group of revellers, exuberant Hooray Henry types, (remember them?) drunkenly do the conga along the carriage, their Union Jack billowing behind them, calling: “Mary Jane! This way!” Making so much noise that the glamorous young woman looks up briefly from fiddling with her iPhone to watch.

And so to the next morning, today, New Year’s Day, when I wake to glorious sunshine with a bruise on my bum, a hatred for all humanity and the almost certain knowledge that the woman on the train did not finish the night looking quite as she began it - much like London. 

Well, maybe that last bit is too strong. I don't hate all humanity and I'm speculating wildly about the woman, but what happened to London and the bruise on my bum are true enough; for as well as a damaged rear, I now have eyes that have been well and truly opened. Possibly forever. 

You see this New Year's Eve, instead of sedately playing charades with a convivial group of other middle-aged couples in our front room after a hearty buffet meal in the kitchen, as our combined gang of offspring roam the house and wade through our DVD selection, as we usually do, we ventured into London. And boy, was it an education.

There are people out there. Loads of them. More than you can possibly imagine. Crowds as big as oceans, all making an enormous mess. 

How did this happen? So many of us. Where do we all come from? How can it possibly be sustained? How do we all feed ourselves and clothe ourselves and get enough to eat and drink? It's not possible. It's all held together by a thread, which could unravel at any moment.

It's obvious, we should not be living in a terrace house in south London, wholly reliant on a myriad of services to keep us alive. We should buy a smallholding in Wales, grow crops and have chickens - and we should do it quick, before Armageddon sets in, which is surely very soon, possibly even now: New Year’s Eve 2012.

These were my thoughts anyway, as we were borne along at a speed not of our own making, on a tide of humanity's effluence on Waterloo Bridge, after the fireworks, our knees kicking against an unimaginable sea of litter. 

It's possible, I suppose, looking back, that these thoughts were brought on by the palpable sense that we were actually performing unwittingly as extras in a Will Smith doomsday disaster movie - but here I’m jumping ahead.

We weren’t venturing alone into town on the tube, we were with another family, and we didn’t go to join the melee in Trafalgar Square, or down on the South Bank, willy-nilly. Oh no, we had a plan, more crucially, we had tickets, to skate at Somerset House between 10.30 and 11.30 pm, after which we would be given champagne and allowed to stand on the riverside terrace to watch the fireworks at midnight away from all the riff raff.

“But how will we get back?” asked Husband, the day before, anxiously perusing the Transport for London website. “It says here expect to wait up to 90 minutes to get on the tube. The place will be mobbed. We will have five children with us.” 

Problem. Finding yourself cast adrift in central London on New Year’s Eve as a fully-grown adult is one thing, but some in our party would be only ten years-old, and quite small with it… 

So I formed a plan - for Husband to execute. He would drive car as near to traffic-free zone as possible in the afternoon, somewhere south of Waterloo bridge, leave it there for us to walk back to after midnight. He could put beloved bike in back and cycle home. 

It sort of worked, except that Husband decided not to take the bike because it was raining hard as nails, and he could not get very close to Waterloo bridge, only near the Imperial War Museum, and the whole operation took an hour and a half because he had to drive round and round waiting for a space to come up. 

Upon arrival in town we kicked off with a delicious meal at our favourite haunt in China Town, then moseyed over to Somerset House... and that was our second taste of it: the ebb and flow, the loud, and at that point quite convivial, crowd: men, women, children, tourists, Londoners, a pick and mix of life for us to pick our way through.

And because it was such a balmy evening (at this point only meteorologically speaking), even those not on the move were outdoors on pavements in their shirt-sleeves and mini-dresses, lending the whole affair an unexpected continental air. So far so good. But then as we turned down Wellington Street, heading towards the Strand, that’s when we saw IT for the first time, or rather, them. People. A huge number of them.

Just what precisely is it about a crowd, especially at night, that appears so alarming? Is it that we are instinctively afraid of stampede? Is it the peril of the mob? Do we fear we might become lost among them? We are, after all, part of it, at any moment at risk of being seamlessly absorbed into the mass...

The skating was good. A different crowd from usual, and fewer of them, possibly owing to the time and the exorbitant price of the ticket, and comprising quite a few floppy-haired young men - you know the type, scarves tied rather too carefully around the neck, jersey tops from Hollister. Hooray Hollisters, I suppose. 

Anyway, it was one of these who crashed into me from behind, sending me flying on to my arse, hence the bruise, and I pride myself on absolutely NEVER falling on the ice, it's a point of honour. So it was a double blow: pride and bottom.

After the champagne and all that London beauty to ogle at, Somerset house and the river at night, the fireworks (short and sweet), we started our long trek car-wards and it was then that I began to despise all humanity and ruminate on the sustainability of human life as we know it. 

“I don’t think I like London,” said Youngest, as we picked our way between pools of vomit and broken glass. So saying he encapsulated my thoughts out loud, as the young are wont to do. We were passing a young boy being arrested at the time, as yet another group of menacing, motionless young males looked on.

There was cheer in the crowd as well, of course, I don't want to paint it all black, and the view from Waterloo Bridge was spectacular, but the odd instruction to have a “Happy New Year!” mostly came from people so drunk they could not be relied upon to operate legs attached to their own bodies, let alone know what year it now was. 

And so, eventually, we made it to the car, parked near the Imperial War Museum, through the dirt and the throng, some of it benign, a lot of it vaguely threatening, most of it shockingly drunk, and at last to bed at some ungodly hour - two o'clock in the morning, I think.

London, like the glamorous young woman on the tube, had started so well: looking her best, full of promise, and ended rather the worse for wear: her make-up smeared across her pretty face, her clothes dishevelled, in need of a jolly good wash and scrub up before facing the harsh, unflinching sunlight of New Year's Morning, 2013.

The cleaning up begins