Wednesday, 22 February 2017

You have been watching.

I have been watching The Man in the High Castle with, well, I won't say with one of my sons, and I can't say with Husband, and I'm not saying by myself, so let's say I have been watching The Man in the High Castle with the goldfish, who is the only other member of the household with a pulse. So anyway, the goldfish and I spend much of the time shouting at The Man in the High Castle and telling each other what’s wrong with it. I think it’s the intriguing idea we’re hooked on (so to speak) rather than its execution. “We just really like the look of it,” I say to the goldfish, because the plot and some of the acting is a bit iffy. People don’t act right when given tragic news. ‘Sorry, your sister and her kids got gassed,’ and the actor looks like he's been told his favourite suit got spoilt at the dry cleaners. The goldfish agrees with me about this. When he can remember. It's been very bonding.

Pandering to the children.

Speaking of bonding, my earliest TV memory is watching Andy Pandy with my brother. He liked to do what Andy Pandy did. One time he tried to launch himself off the top of our stairs in his underpants. And they say television can't damage children. My mother's great love was Play School and we used to watch that with her. She worshipped Brian Cant. There's a great story about his audition when he was asked to get into a cardboard box and row out to sea. He pretended to do a bit of fishing and caught a wellington boot full of custard. 

Brian really could.

If you look back at Play School now it’s incredible how slow it was. Just peeking through the round window took an age. Years later I found myself at an interview sitting in front of the formidable Anna Home who worked on that show, and later I actually met Floella Benjamin. She was about 70, still wearing dungarees, and absolutely delightful.

My grandfather loved Morph and by coincidence the first programme I ever worked on at the BBC was Hartbeat with Tony Hart at the Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham (not to be confused with Heartbeat). They let me direct The Gallery, which was thrilling. And if you have any idea what I was talking about in those last three paragraphs then you are an antique, same as me.


When I was older I watched Top of the Pops, Horizon, M*A*S*H, Shoestring, Bergerac, anything to do with music, science or a detective, with my father. With my mother I watched Coronation Street, The Thornbirds, Brideshead Revisited, anything to do with romance or people. Pretty gendered. We hardly ever watched ITV. People were snobby about ITV in those days. There was some family viewing, of course. For a while we all traipsed down the road to my grandparents’ house every Sunday evening to watch Life On Earth on their colour telly. Six of us, three generations, all watching together. Sweet really. And who can see it happening now? Somewhere along the way that sort of family viewing got lost.

Telly on a shoestring.

The boys barely watch television. I told them I had an illustrated science book as a child that predicted the future. “All four members of one family, in different rooms in the house, sitting in front of their own computers”, I said. “And I remember thinking, don't be silly, no way is that ever going to happen.” They just smiled at me indulgently. 

I told them watching television can teach us things, it's not just Wikipedia. In Canada, because of Little House on the Prairie, I learnt that small children are liable to fall when running down hill. Because of Sesame Street I learnt to recite the alphabet in Spanish and that men can sleep together. Because of Happy Days and The Waltons I learnt that every model family has a dad who fancies the pants off his wife. Because of The Brady Bunch I learnt that girls are blonde and pretty and boys are dark and tall. And because of Rhoda I learnt that wearing a head scarf is a great way to hide greasy hair. 

Brady days.

When we got back from Canada we did without a telly for a while and I stopped learning stuff. Case in point, I couldn't answer a general knowledge question during a quiz at primary school. Who is the actor who plays Robin in Robin's Nest? they asked me. I was outraged, and clueless. We had to get a telly after that so my education didn't suffer. (In case you're wondering it was Richard O'Sullivan and Robin's Nest was the unlikely love child of Man About The House, remember that?). At the time everyone here was in the grip of Starsky and Hutch mania. One friend had posters of them all over her bedroom wall. I never could understood why an eleven year-old girl fancied an old guy with a perm and an old guy in a cardie, although admittedly I do quite like a cardie on a man now, and also Owen Wilson who plays Hutch in the funny movie, but then I am old.

Not David Soul.

When I was a student I did a dissertation on kids’ telly and spent hours watching stuff in a broom cupboard with Phillip Schofield and his gopher. Years after, in preparation for that BBC interview, I set the video recorder to tape kids’ programmes while I was out at work and watched it all in the evening. I developed a loathing for The Chuckle Brothers. Then I had children of my own and they chuckled all the way through The Chuckle Brothers ("to me, to you, Barry.")

I watched a lot of kids’ telly with the boys. In desperation I used to stick Eldest in his pushchair in front of Teletubbies. He was all smiles until it got to the bit with the lion and the bear and then he was terrified. Mind you, Penelope Keith did the voice over.

The lion and the bear.

It was around this time that I was asked if I wanted to direct Brum, which I did. The only problem was it meant leaving the baby behind in London and going to Brum, so I didn't. After that, instead of making kids' telly, I mostly stayed at home and watched kids' telly with a load of kids. Remember Super Ted? The Story Makers? Danger Mouse? Come Outside? Raven? Arthur? The Cramp Twins? I'm an expert on all of it. When I'm old and slumped in my chair in the care home and I've forgotten who I am, I will still be able to hum the theme tune from The Cramp Twins. Could be handy.

Right now, though, I'm hardly watching any telly, apart from TMITHC. Lots of mates say the same. We think it’s because we can afford to be fussy. We know it’s all there for the taking whenever we want it, on Netflix or Amazon or iPlayer, we just don’t get round to it. Plus it’s not much fun watching by yourself and Husband doesn’t like telly, except for University Challenge, which is why I end up watching things with the goldfish.

In a hotel dining room in Sussex last week I overheard the following exchange between a couple and their waitress. "Is everything okay?" asked the waitress. "Yes," said the woman, "only, we can't get ITV on the telly in our bedroom." There's so much wrong with that statement, I thought to myself, I don't know where to start. But maybe I was just being snobby.

Love E x


P.S. From Seinfeld I learnt that ordering soup in New York can be dangerous. I love that episode.


Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Top of the class.

There was a quiz in a newspaper magazine last week called 'How liberal elite are you?' One of the questions was 'What is the Thunderball?' Don't know, I thought, unless it's referring to Sean Connery in that Bond movie, which I'm pretty sure it's not. What is liberal elite anyway? Where I come from there's posh people and then there's everyone else. And they don't call a spade a spade, they call it a shovel. 

When I was at comprehensive school in Yorkshire the other kids thought we were posh because we had a dishwasher. When I got to university I realised we weren’t posh because I met posh people for the first time and they were called Emma and drove Minis and slept around and said 'fuck'. This confused the hell out of me because I was told these things were common (not the bit about the Minis).

Different types of Thunderballs

in a Bond

in a game.

When I met my husband I thought he was uncommonly nice because he wasn’t posh. He had a London accent and I thought this would piss off my mother. I imagined she wanted me to go out with a well-spoken boy with a sensitive side so I steered clear of all those. Later I discovered he'd gone to a boarding school where they wore knee-high yellow stocks and marched into the dining hall playing musical instruments. On the plus side he went on a full scholarship because he came from a broken home and his family didn't have a washing machine or a car. It was around this time I realised class could be a complicated equation.

Pass the port to the one on the left.

As a kid I thought we didn’t have to worry about class because our father was a sociologist. We weren’t middle class or upper class or working class: our father was a sociologist, and an American sociologist hadn't yet come up with the idea of an out of touch liberal elite. Having said that our family life wasn’t like that of the other academics' families we knew. Our house was tidy for a start, and new. It wasn't a ramshackle Victorian pile with a freezing kitchen full of tea-stained mugs and a hall stacked with paperbacks. We had proper bookshelves and an avocado bathroom. We weren’t vegetarian. Our parents were happily married to the person they were originally married to and our mother was pretty and wore make-up. Our father wore a tie every day. Neither of them ever smoked marijuana and I never had a cello lesson.

But the kids at school thought I was posh because I said bath with a long 'a' and was called Elizabeth. So when I was 15 I reinvented myself. I was Liz. I went to the 'youthie' and danced with a boy called Glen who had a gold tooth and offered to take me to the bingo with his mam. He sent me a Valentine's card and wrote inside 'if one of your kisses was a snowflake I'd ask for a blizzard,' (you have to read that in a Yorkshire accent for the full effect). When I was at 'youthie' I referred to my parents as “me mam” and “me dad" and when I got home again, I called out, "Mummy! It's me!" Living a second life was confusing but if that's what it takes to fit in, so be it, I thought. Mad. But it worked.

Cathy born to wander.

At home we had standards. Elbows and milk bottles weren't allowed on tables. When my brother returned from university with a copy of The Sun and a liking for HP Sauce my mother was horrified, which is probably what he wanted. In truth she came from guttersnipes. My maternal grandmother worked in a factory in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham until she married. She'd lived in a back to back house on the same road they filmed Cathy Come Home. By comparison the house we live in now is a palace. Things she thought were luxuries are now run of the mill. We have underfloor heating and a Nespresso machine. My grandmother once stood next to me in the kitchen as I chopped a pepper and asked me what it was.

A pepper.

Eldest reckons he's working class. Husband pointed out it’s not very working class to complain when the smoked salmon runs out. Youngest was horrified by the Bertie Wooster tour of Mayfair Husband proposed when it was his birthday (Husband's, not Bertie Wooster's). I’m not sure what liberal elite is but it’s probably got something to do with eating smoked salmon and liking literary walking tours. Living in a city within spitting distance of a Waitrose is a big part of it apparently. I guess we’re all members of tribes and ours includes graduates who are theatre-goers and would never vote Tory, who buy stuff in John Lewis and could send their kids to private school, but don't, grow veg, cycle to farmers markets and have second homes abroad or in the country.

A love of the Woosters.

Signalling to one another what class we belong to is a complicated business that requires subtly shifting gears. It used to be all Volvo estates and now it's Ford, or even a Skoda. I don’t know anyone who goes on Mark Warner holidays and wears Boden anymore and yet both were de rigueur round here not so long ago. And then there’s language. Sofa or settee or studio couch? Living room or sitting room or lounge? My sister-in-law calls it the drawing room. Is it supper or dinner? Do you call delicious food "beautiful," and a loo a "toilet"? Living in North America as a child has confused me further. I'm still not sure how to say glacier, or vase. I once went into a hardware shop in York to buy some Swarfega (don’t ask) and the shop assistant told me, "it's on your own onus.” She meant she couldn’t guarantee it would work. I suppose laughing at other people's faux pas and calling them faux pas is a way of reassuring ourselves. About what I'm not sure.

I listed a few more of the questions from the quiz at the end for you to ponder, or rather, to test "just how badly you yearn to be in that category." Does class matter anymore? It probably matters the same as it ever did. Probably saying it doesn’t matter marks you out as liberal elite. 

Love E x


P.S. You write a blog? How very common.

Do you live in a city? Do you watch the X Factor? What is quinoa, and how do you pronounce it? Do you smoke? Have you ever a.) worked in a factory b.) been in a factory?Where did you meet your current partner? How often do you use public transport? Have you ever had a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day? Since leaving school, have you ever worn a uniform? (I'm guessing they don't mean to spice things up bedroom-wise. I reckon they're thinking more of the army. Or McDonalds.)

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

What makes you happy?

It’s February, in a fake news, post-truth world in which one of The Simpsons' more imaginative plot lines has come to pass (Donald, of, USA, President, the, Trump, is, rearrange the words yourself because I don't want to write that sentence). Despite this I had a particularly happy week last week making a film. Every bit of the process makes me happy, from coming up with the idea, to selling it, researching it, writing it, shooting it and editing it, and it got me thinking about what makes other people happy. Here below are what friends and family told me, or texted me, when I asked them this question over the weekend. In their words.

Happiness is.

"The first few sips of a hot cup of tea."

"Being on my bike, newly washed, with an open road before me."

"My cat."

"Oh gosh, so many. I'll text you later."

"Saturday morning, some freshly brewed coffee, a croissant with jam, an unopened newspaper and Graham Norton on the radio."

"Cooking a meal for my family that they really enjoy."

"Finally getting round to taking that load of crap in the back of my car to the charity shop and finding something great in the charity shop on the way out."

"Computer games. They're decent."

"I've got three things. First, living in the city."

"Going for a circular walk in the countryside with a pub stop in the middle for a pint and sitting in front of a roaring fire."

"Putting my head on the pillow at night knowing all my kids are in the house and I don’t have to keep checking my fucking phone."

"Second, doing something fun with my teenagers" 

"Being in the car with my wife and three girls about to go on holiday, knowing they are all trapped in there with me for the duration."

"My daughter ringing me and asking what makes me happy, and sounding happy."

"Sex, obviously. Or do you mean something clean?"

"Coming home from work after the cleaner has been in and finding everything immaculate."

"Holidays. Especially that first glimpse of the sea."

"Watching Father Brown in the middle of the day while eating cheese with slices of apple."

"Wearing something new that I can't really afford and then taking it back and getting a full refund because I didn't remove the label." 

"Third, Saturday morning running in the park.

"Cutting my nails really short."

"It’s jamming with my band, and could you possibly just pop some money in my account for that train ticket?"

"Getting into a bed that has clean sheets and husband sidles over and says ‘mmm clean sheets,’ in a suggestive manner. Will that do?"

"I love to dance to music with one of the kids while I'm cooking in the kitchen, and I love putting my feet into the cold part of the bed."

"Also, I've got a friend here with me here and she says waggy tails on dogs."

"It has to be getting a seat on the tube at Balham in the morning, which pretty much never happens."

"Me again. Daughter says it's a full biscuit barrel."

"You can't beat coming across a fresh pair of socks that actually match."

"Driving with my husband in the passenger seat and getting to go my way instead of his way because there's nothing he can do about it."

"Finally getting tickets after I’ve been in one of those fucking stupid online queuing systems for hours." 

"Loving the book I'm reading so much that I don’t want it to end and then having to ration myself."

"Oh, and Husband says it's sailing."

"Waking up feeling knackered and suddenly realising it’s Saturday and then carrying on lying there. Bliss."

"That enough?"

"Hearing from one of my friends that my mother’s blog post doesn’t have a reference to me in it."

Love E x


P.S. "And you can put that in."

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Mine's a beer.

This is a blog post about beer. If you don’t like beer it might be best to look away now, or read something else, or go and look at Facebook or something. If you love beer, and I do, then this is definitely the blog post for you (hi, Alan) hang around and we can get virtually pissed here together. Or even actually pissed. Especially if you did dry January. Who cares that it's only 8.30 on a Wednesday morning? January is over! Cheers.

My love of beer sprang from necessity because of my husband's obsession with it. Ever since he lived in northern France working as an English assistant in a secondary school and his teacher-mates drove him to Belgium every weekend to get pissed in beer bars, before drink-driving him home again, he has loved beer. It was there that he discovered Chimay and Duvel and Hoegaarden and Kriek, long before any of you lot got a sip of it via Sainsbury's speciality beer aisle.


Returning to Angleterre he got hold of a book about Belgian beer by Michael Jackson (no, not that one) read it, and set about trying to find, and drink, all the beers mentioned in it. This was not as simple as it sounds in south London in the early 90s. There was nothing doing in our local Safeways. It involved lots of trips out on the Northern line to Chalk Farm where there was this new restaurant called Belgo (now a chain and not a patch on what it was) where waiters dressed as Trappist monks served Belgian beer with mussels, cooked all ways.

Remembering things past.

Back then I drank white wine because that’s what young women drank. And yet whenever it was time for a tipple, and sometimes even when it wasn’t time for a tipple, Husband would ask, "beer or wine?" and I would reply, "wine, please." Month in, month out, year in, year out, he offered beer or wine, and I replied "wine," until one day he offered beer or wine and I cracked. "Alright, already!" I cried. "A beer! I'll have a beer!" I guess it was an if-you-can’t-beat-him-join-him kind of a thing. 

Proost to that.

After that I drank beer every time it was offered, which was often, and realised I liked it. In fact, I realised I preferred it to any other beverage, including water. Beer is refreshing, and I got less drunk on it than on wine, and less dehydrated. I got a better night’s sleep after drinking beer than after drinking wine, too. So, beer became my booze of choice and has been for ages now, IPA in particular. All my mates drink sauvignon blanc which I don't mind, on a hot day, with some seafood, sitting in a piazza in Italy. Or they drink prosecco, which is nice but a bit sweet for my taste. For me, though, it's beer, pints of, which seems to surprise people for some reason, maybe because of the size of the drink relative to the size of me. My current favourite is Citra, with its lovely lemony twist. They sell it in Waitrose, so maybe give it a whirl next time you're in there.

Won't make you dizzy.

On a family weekend to Sweden one time I discovered the Swedish version of Dizzy Blonde, which, at only 3% alcohol, felt like it had my name on it (as if to prove the point I just Googled 'Swedish Dizzy Blonde' to check that out and got into all sorts of unintended shenanigans). Because what I'm always looking for in my beer, is beer without much alcohol in it. 

I remember one time when I was alone in the house with small boys, as usual, and could find nothing in the fridge save a bottle of Chimay Bleue (9%). After shoving the three of them in front of The Simpsons at six o'clock prompt, as usual (The Simpsons saved my life when the boys were little) I drank it, and instead of laughing at The Simpsons and then skipping off to cook supper, as usual, I crawled away and conked out on the bed. Husband returned home to find three small boys wreaking havoc, no food on the table, and a wife sound asleep upstairs, like Goldilocks. Since then I've steered clear of Chimay Bleue.

Will make you dizzy.

After I switched to beer there was no stopping him. Husband suggested we take a little winter holiday in Belgium. So we did. If there's anybody out there reading this considering a romantic break in February to the God-forsaken flats of Flanders, take it from one who knows, and think again. All I could see as I stared out of our car window through the rain, elbow propped on door handle, chin cupped in hand, was a blighted landscape of empty fields and full cemeteries, war ones, stretching for miles in all directions. “Boys came here to die,” I sighed, my breath steaming up the window. “In their millions.”

“Yes,” replied Husband. “But the monks round here make great beer.”  

He took me on a whistle-stop tour, drinking as much Belgian beer as possible. There was this particular monastery where they brewed this particular beer that he really wanted us to visit. It was hard to find. We had several aborted attempts. Finally, on our last day, we drove for miles to the middle of nowhere and there at the end of this dirt track, we found it. Unfortunately an imposing set of wrought iron gates blocked our way, firmly locked, like something out of Great Expectations, a handwritten sign pinned upon them. 

I couldn't read Flemish, still can't, (although Husband can, of course) and yet as we parked up in front of those gates, the rain lashing sideways, the ghosts of those dead soldiers closing in around us in the mist, even I could decipher what it meant. In huge handwritten letters were the words, 'Gesloten Vrijdag!' 

Love E x


P.S. And of course it was a Vrijdag.