Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Why is life never simple?

Well, it’s been a bizarre couple of days. On Saturday I went for lunch at a good friend’s house (she’s in her 50’s but with a young head – one of the most positive and forward-facing people I know) and there were three other women there. Plus Scrappino. (Psychologists would have a field day. When he’s older and finds a girlfriend he’ll have the most finely-tuned feminine side known to man). Anyway, my middle-aged friend being the young-in-spirit person that she is, the other women at the table were all aged under 23. I felt middle-aged myself in their company. But it was lovely to meet them and chat about the things 20-something girls chat about. I resisted the urge to give them my wise, world-weary advice. Let them figure it out for themselves.

Lunch lasted until tea-time and we talked and laughed and cried in the way you can only manage in a female-only environment. Half way through the afternoon I had to pop out for quarter of an hour (well, if you must know, I’d made an appointment at the beautician at 4 o’clock – nothing special – just the eyebrows – because I’d been sure that we’d have finished eating by then. As it was, we’d not even cleared the plates for the main course). One of the girls said she’d walk down the road with me and so she and I left the house and went on our way.

Once we were out of earshot of my friend she asked me “So, erm, can I ask you a personal question?” (Note to self – the next time a perfect stranger asks you whether they can ask a personal question, say no). “Sure” I replied, “fire away”. Slight pause from my walking companion. “How do you find it, being a Jewish gay single-mother?” Slightly longer pause from me. Followed by a short intake of breath. And possibly a foot stumble. “Actually, I’m not gay”

Now, I can’t quite remember what I said next, but I think I may have followed it with something along the lines of “not that there’s anything wrong with being gay” or “some of by best friends are gay”. Both of which are true, but which smack of ‘methinks the lady doth protest’ and were almost certainly uttered because I was worried that my inquisitor might think that I answered too quickly and was therefore homophobic.

She was clearly very embarrassed and apologised and mumbled something about jumping to conclusions and hoping she’d not offended me and next time she’ll check her facts before she tries to ask a girl out. I assured her that I wasn’t in the slightest bit offended. But I was incredibly curious. And if she’d not been so mortified I’d have asked her why she’d thought I was gay. It’s not the first time this has happened. A colleague once asked me if I was gay a few years ago. But at the time I put that down to the fact that my hair was dyed red and cut within a half-inch of my scalp. A cross between Annie Lennox and Sinead O’Connor. It was an easy mistake to make. But now that I have long blonde hair and whitter on incessantly about finding a decent bloke the reasons for this assumption are more difficult to discern. I spent the whole evening mulling it over and trying to work out what gay-vibes I must be giving off.

The next day I went out with a chap I’d been on a couple of dates with. He’s the one I bored rigid with gasps of “It’s Captain Jack!!” a few nights back. We had a nice day – pub lunch, chat at the flat, you know the score. And by the evening I was feeling pretty confident that this might turn out to be something worth pursuing – rather than the usual shambolic fiasco that my dates tend to be. In fact, I was feeling so up-beat that I risked mentioning it to my family. (Generally speaking not a good idea because a) my mother rushes out to buy hats and b) as soon as I’ve ever mentioned a bloke in the past it has all gone pear-shaped within hours.)

I should have learnt from past mistakes. Sure enough, the following day, I got the phone call. I will spare you the details, but it was a variation on the “it’s not you it’s me” theme. Truth is, he was in a bad place and, in fairness to him, didn’t think it was right to drag someone through that with him. In fact, he was feeling so down that he’d had to take a day off work. (A new low for me – two and half dates and I make a man physically ill.)

So the gender that doesn’t do it for me is politely trying to ask me out and the gender that I’m after is vomiting at the mere thought. I’m stumped. And single. Again.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Greener grass?

A short story about a conversation overheard on the train.

Yesterday evening, I went into town to help A celebrate her birthday. A is a friend and work colleague who wouldn't ordinarily get a mention, if it weren't for the fact that a) it's her birthday and b) she's only just started reading this blog and I'd like to keep her keen. Anyway, she arranged a birthday get-together at a lovely bar/restaurant just minutes from our office. Perfect. What could be simpler? A day at the office followed by a post-work drink just steps from the front door.

The problem is that drinks on a school night are a little bit complicated for me. You see, I leave work at 2.30 in order to get back home in time to pick up Scrappino from school. Then, once I've helped him with his homework, given him his supper, run his bath and tidied up his toys, there is just 20 minutes left for a quick shower before the babysitter arrives. I then have to do a 360 degree about-turn, and make the journey back to the office to meet my colleagues for that post-work drink. As a result, I tend to spend most of the evening cursing my lot, questioning my life choices and swearing at the likes of Rachel Hunter and Liz Hurley ("Being a single mum is so empowering" - Empowering?? Is it buggery! It's an exhausting logistical nightmare).

Anyway, I digress. It was about 7.15 and I was traveling on the infamous Bedford to Brighton Thameslink service. It's the kind of train service that makes you want to look up the word 'service' in the dictionary, to see if it does actually mean shambolic fiasco. So I'm sitting on the train hoping that the fact that I rushed like a mad banshee to get into town on time isn't too obvious, and in the seats opposite me are a couple of young(ish) women traveling from Elstree back towards town. I knew they were coming from Elstree because that's where the BBC studios are and these two women were the epitome of tv/meeja types. They had that lazy boho style of dress that looks thrift store but actually costs a fortune. You know the kind of thing. The woolly hat with the ear flaps from Peru. The chunky silver rings on their middle fingers. The jeans with the skirt to the knees on top. And they had the conversation to match the style. They chatted away about various producers they'd worked with, the Christmas shows they'd been involved in, the foreign locations they'd be filming at this year.

And all the time I sat there, with damp hair (no time to dry it before I left), make up in my handbag (no time to apply it at home) and I thought about the pile of unread (but oh so dreary) emails that were waiting for me at work the following day. And I don't mind admitting I was just a tad jealous. I eavesdropped on their conversation, and all the time I was thinking to myself - I want their life. I want the easy chit-chat about production companies and the foreign location shoots and the TV scheduling meetings. And I want the journey home from work at 7.30 without having to factor in babysitters and homework.

Twenty minutes or so later we arrived at Kentish Town and one of the women got off the train. The other remained behind and as the train pulled away from the station she took out her phone and dialed a number. The conversation (of which I only heard half, obviously) went something like this:

"Hi. It's Mum. How was school?"
"Have you done your homework?"
"Well, when will you do the other half?"
"Okay, well make sure you do. Have you had your supper?"
"Good. Did you tidy up your room?"
"Well when are you going to do it?"
"Fine. I'll be home in about an hour"
"Okay. Bye"

And suddenly, I didn't feel so dreary single-mother with dead-end job. I didn't mind that I'd had to execute a plan of military precision in order to have one drink in a bar in town after work. Or that, however much I enjoy my job, it will never induce pangs of jealousy in eavesdropping commuters. In fact, I stopped wanting their life and started appreciating my own. Because even the glamorous Guardian readers with faux-Oxfam wardrobes and foreign location schedules have to worry about homework and kids' suppers and tidying bedrooms. Why would I want the life of some trendy media exec when it turns out our lives are not so different after all?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Well, it is for charity...

So, another year, another Children in Need night. Five hours of non-stop entertainment. I use the word ‘entertainment’ in the loosest sense. (In the sense that watching Bruce Forsyth teach John Humphreys to do a two step shuffle is entertainment.)

The evening kicked off with a performance by Madonna. Now, I’m not one to knock charity giving. Generally, on the scale of human activity, charity does score pretty highly. And I know that raising money for disadvantaged children has to be applauded. But I can’t be the only viewer to feel a little queasy when Madonna starts imploring the Great British public to give generously. She earns more in half an hour from the royalties of ‘Like a Virgin’ than was raised by the entire Children in Need event. Later in the evening, we were persuaded to put our hands in our pockets by Paul McCartney (estimated worth £500 million) and Sharon Osborne (£100 million). Financially, I’m really not doing too badly – I have a lovely flat, a car that gets me from A to B without breaking down and I have a holiday once a year – so I’m not going to plead poverty. But it does seem a little topsy-turvy that multi-millionaires are begging me for cash.

Mind you, at least Madonna was using her god given talents for good use. She’s a singer and she sang. Fair enough. It’s when the weather girls start performing a musical number from Chicago and the news readers all don the spandex for a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody that the world seems to be spinning in the wrong direction. What does this say about the British public? I like to think (and maybe I’m being over optimistic?) that people will give generously for a good cause. When the tsunami hit the far east a year ago people put their hands in their pockets and donated what they could. I don’t recall anyone saying “there’s been a terrible natural disaster in Indonesia and millions have been left homeless. So let’s all sit in a bath of baked beans to raise some funds. If we don’t do a sponsored bike ride dressed as chickens the kids out there are gonna starve.”

Equally nauseating were the amount of times the men in the audience pledged cash (one chap offered a grand) if Natasha Kaplinsky would give them a kiss or flash them a bit of leg. Yes, it’s a good cause. Yes, the kids need our help. But should we really, as a nation, be asking professional, intelligent (if unbelievably attractive) women to prostitute themselves on national telly before we’ll dig deep and donate some money?

As well as the cringe-worthy performances from journalists who should know better and the boy bands shamelessly using the event to promote their latest cover version (“We wanted to do something to help the kids – we felt we just had to come along and sing our latest single from our new album which is in the shops from Monday” – sadly, an almost direct quote) there was the obligatory ‘meet the audience members holding unfeasibly large cheques’. I felt so sorry for one woman who had the misfortune of presenting her cheque to Wogan after the chairman of HSBC.

Wogan: Who are you Sir?
HSBC man: I’m from HSBC and we’ve raised £500,000.
(Huge applause from studio audience)
Wogan: And who are you Madam?
Woman: I’m from Pat’s Café in Bolton and we’ve raised £56.

Still, there were some highlights – even for an old cynic like me. Scrappino and I sat poised at 9.00 with bated breath and the video set to record, for the special Dr Who preview. It was only ten minutes long, and considering the tat I’d had to sit through to get to this point it could so easily have been a disappointment. But it was well worth the wait. The dialogue was witty, Rose looked terrific and the new Doctor sparkled. As the end credits rolled I was almost tempted to ask “Christopher Eccleston? Never heard of him”. And later in the evening I was thrilled to watch the cast of The Archers make utter prats of themselves live on TV. (There are some avid listeners – and there are few more avid than me – who deliberately avoid watching the cast of The Archers on TV because they don’t want to spoil the mental image they have of the characters in their heads. But I’m not one of them. I was glued to the set).

And at the end of the evening, the total amount raised was in excess of 17 million. Loose change perhaps to the likes of Macca and Madge, but enough to transform the lives of children all over the UK. And that has to be a good thing. (Though next year, let’s not invite Bruce Forsyth and John Humphreys back. These kids have suffered enough).

Friday, November 18, 2005

About time

Last night I came face to face with an intergalactic time traveler. And it's not often you get the chance to say that. To be precise I went to the theatre last night to see "A Few Good Men", starring Rob Lowe, Jim Fenner (Bad Girls) and Karen McDonald (Corrie). Female readers will be pleased to know that Rob Lowe is still gorgeous and still looks no older than 25. Meanwhile Jim Fenner (no idea what his real name is) is just as terrifying in the flesh as on G:Wing. Now, I've not seen the film "A Few Good Men" (I was probably revising when it came out) and so I had no idea what the story was about. So it was pretty gripping theatre. The only bit I knew was the famous "You can't handle the truth", which, in fairness, was delivered very convincingly by Fenner. It can't be easy delivering a famous line that's already been immortalized by another actor. (I once saw Judi Dench play Lady Bracknell in "The Importance of Being Ernest" and, to avoid any unfair comparisons with Edith Evans, she just mouthed "a handbag" instead of trying to compete. Chicken.)

Anyway, half way through the second half we get to the court-room scene. Rob Lowe is defending the two marines and the prosecuting attorney is a rather attractive, chisel-boned chap who looks frankly fabulous in uniform. The prosecutor begins interrogating one of the witnesses and my ears prick up. I've heard this voice before. This voice is very familiar to me. In fact, so familiar that I'm convinced I know this voice from real life. And then I suddenly realised. This is a voice that has been whittering with abandon in my living room for the past 6 months. Not literally, but via Scrappino's Dr Who DVD collection. This is the voice of Captain Jack Harkness.

For the uninitiated - you lucky people - Captain Jack Harkness is a time agent who bumps into Dr Who and joins him on his adventures, eventually being exterminated by a Dalek and then brought back to life by Rose who has the entire time vortex coursing through her veins after looking into the heart of the tardis and ingesting its symbiotic power (now do you have an inkling of what I've had to put up with this past year!?!)

Anyway, a little too loudly for the people sitting near me, I very excitedly shouted (well, not exactly shouted, commented really - but in a silent theatre auditorium with excellent acoustics the sound does travel unexpectedly well) "Oh my god!! Look!! It's Captain Jack!!" I am not sure whether Captain Jack heard me but I was certainly sitting near enough to the stage for him to hear. (The terror dividend is cheap theatre tickets in the stalls any day of the week). If he did hear, he was incredibly professional. Not a flinch. Exactly what you'd expect from a time agent.

I spent the rest of the performance staring at Captain Jack and boring the pants off my theatre companion with a repeated mantra of "Scrappino is gonna be SO jealous" and "Just wait til I tell Scrappino about this". I also managed to surreptitiously pinch the program of the chap next to me and read Captain Jack's biog. His character in "A Few Good Men" was Jack Ross. As well as playing Captain Jack he's played a character called Jack in the film version of The Producers and a character called Jack in "De-Lovely" with Kevin Kline (excellent film by the way - especially if you like Cole Porter). I'm not sure if he only plays Jacks or if he does other names too. (If he sticks with Jack his panto currency is going to be a bit limited.)

Anyway, we sat through the end of the trial (the marines go free - hurray - Rob Lowe is a hero - hurray - and Jim Fenner gets his just deserts - hurray). To be honest though, by this time I was too excited about getting a copy of the program for Scrappino and rushing round to the stage door for his autograph to really concentrate on the plot. Which, considering what we've learnt about Guantanamo Bay since the play was written is probably not the attitude a globally-conscience person should have. But then, this is Captain Jack!

After the performance was over I rushed to the foyer to buy a program (£4). I resisted the urge to buy a poster (£8) but did pick up a flyer for Cinderella, the Panto, in which he's playing the Prince (Prince Jack presumably). After waiting outside the stage door for five minutes in the arctic frost we decided to forego the autograph hunt (well, my friend physically pulled me away by the scarf) since it was far too cold to be standing outside waiting for a time agent to take off his make-up.

Scrappino was asleep when I got home so I had to wait til this morning to tell him who I'd seen. I can't convey in words the child's excitement. After he'd ascertained that I wasn't making it up ("Really?" "What, really?" "THE Captain Jack?" "No, really, the actual real Captain Jack for real in real life actually really???") he almost shook with excitement and was breathless with the sheer exhilaration of it all. Then came the hundreds of questions. "What did he look like?" "How tall is he in real life?" "Does he look the same?" "Does he sound the same?" "What was he wearing?" "What did he say?"

On retelling this to my work colleagues, one of them asked where Scrappino gets his obsessive excitability from? Really, she said, he should learn to calm down and chill a bit. It's only an actor for god's sake. It's not like he's a real time agent.

Not like he's a real time agent?? Honestly, some people really can't handle the truth.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

scattered showers

I am going to have to be terribly British and blog about the weather. I wouldn't normally be so nationally stereotypical, but in the absence of much else to report (no comedy gigs this week, sadly) I have nothing left to comment on but the weather. Having said that, it has suddenly turned absolutely freezing. In the space of a weekend it went from balmy Indian summer to sub-zero, scrape-yer-windscreen-in-the-morning, opening scenes from ER series 2 (the one with the snow under the railway) freeeezing.

You can always tell when the weather turns cold because the weather forecasters start treating the entire British public like sub-normal, geriatric idiots. After a brief spell in Autumn, when they insist on giving us gardening tips and bird-watching updates (I just want to know if it's going to rain - I don't give a shag about the bloody heron!) they start using their meals-on-wheels-lady voices to do the weather. They can't just tell us it's going to be cold. They have to remind us that, because it's getting cold, we'll have to "wrap up warm" and "don't leave the house without a hat". Because if the weather forecaster didn't remind you, you might pop out in a blizzard wearing nothing but a t-shirt. When did the weather forecasters become your mum?

And, while I'm ranting, why do they have to use such babyish language? These people have geography degrees and work for the British Meteorological Office (well, not the dollies on GMTV, but the other forecasters do). So why do they have to bombard us with terms like 'spits and spots of rain' or 'nasty squawly showers'? Is 'spits and spots' a technical term used by the International Meteorological Society? I'd hazard a guess that it isn't.

Truth is, the forecasters don't have time to tell us the weather properly anymore because they're too busy giving us a list of utterly undecipherable numbers. What is a pollen index exactly? And is a pollen count of 5 good or bad? And if it's bad, what exactly are we supposed to do about it anyway? I appreciate that the odd hay fever sufferer might want to know. But this summer the BBC forecasters were giving us grass pollen, tree pollen and weed pollen counts. For what? The odd half a percent of the population who sneeze a lot? Just tell them to buy a handkerchief and be done with it.

Mind you, I never actually listen to the weather forecast. Not because I don't believe in them. But because once I'm up and dressed and have put the telly on, I'm not going to change my clothes just because the care-worker-cum-meteorological-expert tells me to "wrap up warm". If my jeans don't match my warm coat, I'll wear my thin jacket, irrespective of any potential spits and spots of rain. I simply rely on that magical method of climate control - fashion. Because somehow, if what you're wearing looks good, but is not appropriate for the weather, you don't care. You just assume that the power of fashion will shield you from the sub-zero temperatures and the driving rain. When you go out on a Saturday night with a thin jacket and tiny clutch bag (no room for umbrella or warm hat) you just tell yourself that it won't rain on you because fashion dictates that you wear a jacket without a hood and carry a bag that holds nothing more than your bus pass and a fiver.

What we really need is for the forecasters to be more precise. Get rid of the vague "wrap up warm" and introduce a specific instruction. "Tonight the weather is going to be too warm for your parker with the fur trimmed hood but not quite cold enough for that new cotton jacket with the big buttons". Less "pollen count" and more "layers of clothing count". Then maybe I might pay more attention.

Of course, my favourite weather forecast ever was on the Today programme years ago. When Brian Redhead still ruled the roost. He told listeners "and now the weather. Bright in the north. Dull in the south. A bit like the people really."

If you're local - don’t forget to wrap up warm. It's getting nasty and squawly out there.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

onwards and upwards

My apologies for another week (well, almost) without blogging. There are a few reasons for this.

i.) I returned from my week away in Athens to be greeted by a Kilimanjaro sized mountain of emails at work. This morning I finally got the tally down from 187 to 13. 10 of which have been sitting in my inbox since early September. If I ignore them for just a week longer they’ll be out of date and I’ll not have to action them. (Don’t you hate it when office jargon takes a noun, such as ‘action’ and turns it into a verb? I used to get all Lynn Truss about things like that. But if you can’t beat them, as they say…)

ii.) I came home from the Mediterranean warmth to a near-freezing London and had to make an emergency dash to Brent Cross for some winter knitwear. I took Scrappino with me. He stepped into Next with me and we were there for less time than it takes to get from here to ………………………………………here before he got bored and started asking “can we go now?” I did manage to stock up on a couple of basics with a promise that if he just let me get on with it I’d take him to Borders afterwards to buy a Doctor Who book (yes, ANOTHER one). I had my sweet revenge because we’d been in the bookshop for less than five seconds before I started whining “can we go now?”. But we both left the shopping centre with plastic bags full of goodies so nobody was complaining.

iii.) I gave my first ever, live, stand-up performance as a compere/comedienne in front of a paying audience. My god, that sentence sounds good. In fact, I’m so proud of it, I’m going to say it again. I gave my first ever, live, stand-up performance as a compere/comedienne in front of a paying audience. To put things in perspective, I compered the Limmud Live event on Sunday evening. There were only about 250 people in the audience, and, this being Limmud, the audience was hardly likely to heckle or indeed respond with anything less than thunderous applause and 100% support. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. And we all have to start somewhere. And, since this is something I’ve wanted to do since forever, I was delighted to have the chance.

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you’ll have recognised much, if not all, of the content of my ‘set’ (a rather grandiose term for what was really just two five-minute slots in between the ‘real’ acts). But I was a bag of nerves before I went on stage and since I managed to do the whole thing without alcohol and without making any mistakes, I was pretty damn pleased with the whole thing. It’s not the Paladium. Or even the Comedy Store. But a fee paying crowd is a fee paying crowd. And I’m mighty pleased to be able to say, in the spirit of comedy’s rule of three, that I gave my first ever, live, stand-up performance as a compere/comedienne in front of a paying audience.

And you can tell your children, in years to come, that you heard me first, at Suburbanhymns.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Greek myths

Well, I'm back in Blighty after 6 wonderful days in Athens. I did (fleetingly) consider blogging while I was away but figured that I (and possibly you) deserved a break.

I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow run down of what we did/what we ate/what we saw etc. You can read Michael Palin et al for that. But here are my initial, unrehearsed thoughts on Athens.

1. It looks just like Jerusalem. I feel very provincial (in a Jewish kind of way) saying that. I'm reminded of an old Jewish man who once told me that he didn't bother going abroad (other than to Israel) because Israel had everything the rest of the world could possibly offer. Snow in the north, desert in the south, antiquity in Jerusalem, modern metropolis in Tel Aviv. I tried pointing out that, while certainly diverse, Israel doesn't quite have everything. It lacks the rennaissance art of Florence, the natural wonder of Ayres Rock, the breathtaking wildlife of Kenya. But he was having none of it. That said, Athens is exactly like Jerusalem. The buildings are constructed with the same off-white stone, the rocky mountains in the distance are identical, the pavements have the same habit of suddenly disappearing into a heap of sand half way down the street and then re-appearing 100 yards up the road for no apparant reason. And everywhere you look there are olive trees. Plus, slap bang in the middle, are the ruins of an ancient building, a wonder of the ancient world, slowly crumbling but still a vestige of past glory, now surrounded by beggars and touts selling tourist souvenirs.

2. There are no blondes and no black people in Athens. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was so strange at first, and then it suddenly hit me. No blondes. No blacks. The only blonde I saw in five days was Scrappino. And the only black face was a tourist from the US staying in my hotel. It's the most ethnically un-diverse place I've ever visited.

3. Athens boasts some of the dullest museums known to man. They have yet to discover the concept of the interactive exhibit or education-through-play. We visited a war museum (rows of glass cases containing antique pistols), a maritime museum (rows of glass cases containing model ships and canons) and an archeology museum (rows of glass cases containing rocks). For some bizarre reason, Scrappino loved it. I can almost hear my mother making a "kids today don't need playstation - just give them an empty box and a wooden spoon". Or something like that.

4. All Greek women over the age of 45 look Jewish. I'd thought it was only Olympia Dukakis, but no. We kept seeing groups of Greek women chatting in coffee shops and I was sure they were all out for the Ladies Guild AGM.

5. Athenians love children. Maybe this is just in contrast with Brits, who like their children unseen and not-heard. But in Greece, people were falling over themselves to chat to Scrappino, help him buy his ticket on the Metro, serve him in restaurants. Maybe they were all so amazed to meet a blonde child? Scrappino, obviously, milked it for all he's worth and is now a life-long fan of all things Greek.

And now, after six days away, I'm back in the UK, with grey skies and drizzly rain. I wonder where that old Jewish chap would head for in Israel to capture the feeling of London in November....