Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Peter Berg broke his promise...

Over the years in my chequered career (barmaid, reporter, news reader, kids' TV presenter, script editor, writer) I've done some bizarre things to get folks' attention. Not I might add, in some weirdo way - like those deluded folks who charge the stage at X factor auditions, convinced they can sing and perform like Queen Bey, only to unleash a sound like a strangled Banshee and gyrate like my Dad on a wedding dance floor.

No, I mean the lengths I've gone to, to get my CV on the right desk, or (in my presenting days) my showreel on the producer's list. (Oh and quell your dirty mind - I don't mean any casting couch shenanigans either - no one ever tried any of that. Which is good. I think. Or maybe I had the face for radio after all...).

Anyway, no matter the showreels stuffed in boxes of muffins hand delivered, or the CV attached to a helium balloon, or the time I attended a Q & A and doorstepped the speaker afterwards, CV in hand - nothing has come close to my determined efforts to get a Parenthood spec script into the hands of Peter 'FNL' Berg, to pass on to his buddy and Parenthood Showrunner, Jason Katims. The whole thing was planned with military precision. I'm not a gal to do things by halves. I knew that his film Battleship would, at some stage, be doing the promotional rounds. So, my Parenthood script was written, re-drafted, polished and ready by the time his plane hit Heathrow. But how to get near a Hollywood god, when I am but a lowly writer?? If in doubt - ask your mates for help. My theory in life has always been, that if you don't ask, you can't possibly ever get. So old buddy Max, head of a news showbiz desk, agreed to let me slip on my reporter shoes once again, and cover the junket.

Junkets are always great - lots of pastries, and pasty looking journos scuttling around, occasional freebies (NB the worse the film, the more freebies one tends to get) and as much still or sparkling water as you can shake a stick at. I did have to sit through Battleship - which was perhaps the toughest part of the challenge - but it was all worth it, back in March 2012 - when I climbed up the steps to the Manderin Oriental hotel, my questions in my sweaty palm. My script - a PARENTHOOD spec, on a USB stick in my pocket.

Another bonus of this quest, was the mere fact that as well as interviewing Mr Berg - I'd also have to interview the star of the movie - one Mr Taylor Kitsch. What a bind eh? 15 minutes with Tim Riggins himself, where after a cursory question or two about the movie, we settled down to a great chat about the merits of Friday Night Lights: the great writers, wonderful direction, on set gossip, etc etc. I did get a bit carried away and tried to coerce him into a rousing 'Clear Eyes, Full Hearts....' but he laughed and let me finish it all by myself...

*Sighs at the memory*

Where was I? Oh yes. I was escorted by terribly serious looking people in black suits, with Madonna-esque headphones around the hotel - from one incredibly hot light-filled room to another. They would open a door to the dazzling Brooklyn Decker and her amazing pins and then send me back to the journo hub, for yet some more mineral water. After a wait of a mere 4 hours, they said, 'Please come this way to meet Peter Berg.'

With a deep breath, I entered the room and shook his hand. He looked tired, thin and seemed slightly delirious. (After about 100 interviews that day, I'm not surprised). We did the obligatory Battleship chat before I launched into my un-ending praise of FNL. I told him how I loved the writing: Kerry Ehrin (New York, New York and After the Fall, Texas Whatever) and David Hudgins (Hello, Goodbye) and of course Jason Katims (Always) being my favourites. At this point it could have gone either way: Berg happy to talk shop on another project or keen as mustard to get back to all things Battleship. Thank Gawd he was impressed, (delighted even) to talk about something other than 'what made you think of creating a film from a board game' chat; saying 'she knows her stuff,' - especially when I noted he had only directed 2 eps (the pilot and the first ep season 4 in case you are interested).

As the interview was being wound to a close (which is nice speak for a PR making signs of my throat being cut behind Berg's back and tapping her watch furiously) I could feel my heart hammering in my chest. I said how lovely it was to meet him and then held onto his hand a moment too long. I asked him a favour, then carefully gave him my USB stick, explaining that I was massive fan of Parenthood, that I'd written a spec script (mid season 2 - just stopped the DVD and then wrote the next ep) and would he be so kind to pass it on to show runner Mr Katims. He smiled, impressed (again - yay!) with my chutzpah and agreed to do so. I made him promise. He did. I stopped short at the whole pinky swear thing, just.

Then I stepped out into the unseasonably warm March evening with a massive grin on my face. Mission accomplished. As I trained it home, collected my children from helpful friends and bathed them, I imagined Berg jetting home and finding the little USB stick in his inside jacket pocket, many moons later and remembering our chat. I'd stuck my name and details on it - for fear he would just bin it. I let the universe take my hope and crossed my fingers a mysterious email would pop up in my in box one day.

It never did. Peter Berg, you broke your promise!

Meanwhile I heard from an American friend that Katims would have never read it anyway - in the US they refuse to look at specs on their own shows - for fear of lawsuits decreeing plagiarism if a similar idea was ever aired.

But would I do it all again if I had the chance? Absolutely. Because asides from the bonus of getting to talk with Berg (and did I mention I met Kitsch?) the whole thing gave me something that as a new mother of two, I desperately needed: hope. Hope that I'd somehow get to write for TV shows, hope that all my experience as a script ed on UK dramas wouldn't go to waste. Hope that the little USB with my Parenthood ep is stuck in Berg's jacket pocket, or in a drawer in his office, that he will discover one day. You never know...

Monday, 29 September 2014

Dotty Apple - for the person who has everything

So whaddaya get the person who has everything? Me - I will never be unhappy with any premium bourbon, good red wine, stationary and Jo Malone candles, book or Zara vouchers - thankyouverymuch.  In fact I'm pretty easy to buy for. But many folk are not. Men for example. After the obligatory smellies or a decent book, what do you get them? Socks??? Some technology stuff? Something to put all those coins and little bits of paper that they leave lying around on every available surface?

Plus, we all have that friend who has everything - or uber expensive taste that your budget doesn't quite extend to (Tiffany earrings a tad outta your pay cheque range). Now my buddy, she likes the finer things in life - but is down to earth, so I could have gone for some M & S salty snacks and she would have been happy. (She likes the salty snacks does Big T).

Anyway, as luck would have it a lovely lady got in touch with me from a fab website called Dotty Apple. She makes canvases and framed prints of lots of lovely words - that you would use to describe someone, or all the things in life they love. Or their birth date/weight/place etc for a newborn. Or a unique wedding gift... All completely personalised and in whatever format or colours you want. Have a look here to see. Or take a look at Big T's above. (I hasten to add that my daughter Sproglette christened her Big T on account of having a buddy at nursery who is 'little T.' The size here is on account of age, not stature or weight).

Most of my friendships involve plenty of banter and taking the piss. Therefore Big T was never gonna get a framed print of all her fabulous qualities - rather, I'd draw attention to the fact she compared herself once to a Rodin sculpture, admitted that she had 'completely fallen in love with the theatre' (again) and the fact she is useless at internet dating.

Naturally she loved it. The colours, the sentiment, the beautiful frame. So thanks to the fabulous Dotty Apple. Now, when you're thinking of what to get the person who has everything for Xmas, get them something personal, unique and that reminds them what an ejit they are! You're welcome!

Saturday, 27 September 2014


“He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones "it’s" rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly.

He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,
dies slowly.

He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn't know, he or she who don't reply when they are asked something they do know,
die slowly.

Let's try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.” 
― Pablo Neruda

Monday, 22 September 2014

Things I miss

The other day our family's fav movie, Jaws, was on TV and for the millionth time I reminded my son,  that back when I was 8, just how excited I had been to see it at the cinema. He's heard the story a million times, but he bless him, sweetly he let me tell it again: How Jaws had done the rounds the year before - and patiently I had waited until the Curzon advertised it would be on again. I explained how terrified I had been, and how I pretended I was losing hair grips and just had to crawl along the floor to find them at precisely the scary bits...

That is what you did back then - not crawl for hair grips - but you waited for the movie to come back on screen again. Previously, every Xmas, Disney had re-released Snow White and my Mum had taken me to see it. I'd fallen in love with the whole movie going experience - the dark lighting, the whispers, the ginormity of the dazzling screen. I don't think I have ever loved an experience (that doesn't involve another human) more than when the lights dim and a movie begins...

Years later when my Dad got a VHS machine - I was beyond thrilled to go to his local video store and peruse all the videos on offer. SO MANY films, all in one room! My tiny mind boggled at the choice so I plumped for Jaws 2 (obvs) and Fame. Every Friday my Dad would let me pick a movie and it was by far my favourite event of the week. The summer of '86 I remember we chewed our nails and patiently waited for the video store to call us to say that that "Witness' had been dropped back in; we were so desperate to see it (and it remains one of my favourite films to this day). Every week brought new releases - and old films finally available on VHS.

Near my Mum the video store was above a newsagents and I would cycle most evenings there - at least twice a week, to chat to Lonsdale, the guy behind the counter. My buddy and I named him so on account of his Lonsdale sweater (clearly we weren't very inventive). We were obsessed with horrors and would persuade him to lend us 18 certificates even though he could have lost his job for doing so. We devoured all the Elm streets, the Hammer Horror back catalogue and rubbish like Fright Night and Amityville.

Much later in London I befriended a video store boy around the corner for me who only spoke, or indeed acknowledged me - on occasion. No matter how much I tried to charm him or win him over, he wouldn't play the game. In the town I now live in, my first real buddies were The Video Store Boys - in fact I wrote a blog about them.

I miss this whole experience - the interaction with some film studies student, who wants to chew the fat about some obscure black and white movie, whilst secretly loving The Matrix... The whole joy of staring along the aisles, taking a punt on a foreign film that the Guardian gave 4 stars to; sticking your head into the 'classics' section to unearth films you should have watched but never got around to.

All of this has gone - to be replaced by the mind numbing i tunes that has nothing decent anyone ever wants to watch. No-one to give you a recommendation, or to remind you that a new Fincher film will be out in 3 weeks... (but was the book better? Discuss...) Where's the personal touch, the joy of finding a gem you missed, the banter about what you thought of it? Now everyone is some gawdawful armchair critic - tweeting their praise or venting their wrath, full of bluster and spelling mistakes.

I miss Video stores. I miss VHS tapes - where you had something tangible, real, durable, in your hands. When you slaved over 'mix video tapes' of clips of your favourite artist on TOTP, No Limits, Saturday morning telly or that weird video chart show on Channel 4 on a Friday. Where you watched carefully taped series of The Young Ones or BlackAdder 2 and 3 and knew every single word...

Now everything is downloaded and discarded.

The year I travelled (95-96) there was no email. No Facebook. No i tunes. I took an old walkman and a diary. I wrote down everything and took endless reels of film. I wrote letters home and loved when I got them back. I journeyed from Hong Kong to NZ, Sydney, Perth, Melbourne to Thailand and India - lost amongst the masses. No Facebook pics to record every step - pissing off your 300 'friends'. No lengthy blogs on the whole experience. No tweets and face times and all that jazz, so people are really thinking that it feels like YOU NEVER WENT AWAY. I disappeared - not quite The Beach, but in my own way. I called home every other week. Scrawled drunken postcards now and then, when I remembered. Now? CCTV records every step you take - there's no staggering down Koh San road, after too much Sang tip whiskey. Koh Chang - so deserted that it didn't have a single cash point, no electricity bar a strip of bulbs in the bar, and your shower was a cold spray tap, a bucket to 'flush' your loo. Now, email cafes and glam hotels... Gone the simple pleasures, the connections - we're all too busy recording life to actually live it. You never actually escape, disappear. Your footprint in the sand is now an image on a CCTV/dreadful Facebook update to horrify your future boss...

I miss life without phones. Over a coffee with a good friend last week she received 5 emails re work. She couldn't switch off -  just step away. She was CONTACTABLE. The days where you were out, so therefore NOT contactable - are gone... No one would dream of calling you at your home at 10pm to talk shop - but nowadays they'll send an email. And bet that you'll read it as well. You are never off the clock.

What do I miss most? Connection - plain and simple. We think we've achieved it with all our apps and websites and snapchats and the like. Yet we're more remote in many ways than ever. A movie missed? Pah, it'll be on tv in 6 months. A text sent - why haven't they replied in 5 minutes? We've lost patience. We've lost perspective. If we can't have it immediately then why bother? Life is only to be lived for the purpose of inspiring envy in others or to play out some charade of a life we think we are living... But it's only our camera life.

Back in the good old days, we just stopped for chat. Rang a home phone. Waited for the engaged tone to cease. Read about a movie in a paper, queued round the block on it's opening day. Borrowed a book from a library. Browsed the aisles of a supermarket, rather than an online list. We gave more time - we seemed to have more when we weren't gazing at our screens.

In many ways that is why I love Jaws. Before CGI would have fucking ruined it - by creating some tinpot shark instead of the Hitchcockian genius of giving us it's POV. Before movie marketing talked up a film for years before it's release only to be all the more disappointing when it premiered. Before the blockbuster (of bullshit) was created. When story mattered. Sometimes I feel that for all that we have got, there is so much we have lost.

*With that, she shut down her laptop and went and did some less boring instead*

(5 points if you know what show that is from... and I miss it too.) 


I keep meaning to blog. Then every time I do - I feel completely different: on some levels I am almost bi-polar! One moment I feel all positive, the sun is shining, ta dah, look out world here I come and the next? I want to hide under a rock and not come out this side of xmas.

On one hand, I am relieved to feel less stressed. To have time with my children. To have time to help with homeworks and go for ice cream and do all the mother type stuff that used to feel like yet another job once my other one had finished. But at the same time, I miss people - my old work mates, I miss adult conversation. Talking to Mums on the school run - as nice as they are - isn't the same as the day in and out grind with workmates. The camaraderie as you get through whatever issue of the day is weighing you down. Why does every decision I make in life come with such a compromise? I keep telling myself that if I ever get a commission, then I'll have script editors to talk to - (gawd help them and their delicate ears) and it won't be such an isolating life. But at the moment - it is like I moved to another planet - certainly feels this way since the NYC job ended.

Plus, I'm not so good with new people. I am actually really shy. People who know me may just have spat out their coffee reading that line - but it is true. The loud girl is also the shy one. A paradox I know. Deep down there is something at the core of me that never feels quite good enough at anything I do. I wish I had all confidence in the world that my personality would suggest I have - but I don't. I meet other mothers and think they enjoy it more than me - that they 'know' things that I don't. I'm not at my most secure in the playground... I used to feel far more comfortable sweating under the lights, in a studio with 30 crew staring at me, being counted down to a live show by a producer in my ear. It was easier, I swear.

So I've changed my life to have more time - which I have - and yet... it still isn't the perfect fit. *sighs*  On the plus - I'm writing for Babble and now a new site called YourTango - which is all about love and sex and relationships and agony aunt type stuff which I LOVE. Because as shit as I am at solving my own life - I'm fabulous at everyone else's... So the blogging work is going great guns. The other writing stuff takes time - and I have NO patience.

Plus, leaving my job has meant that yes, I have less childcare costs but, I have a LOT less income. So people keep asking to me for drinks and do all this stuff - and I'm too embarrassed to say 'I can't.' Every penny I bring in is accounted for in a bill, a direct debit, and what is left is to go to party for my daughter's birthday party in December and Xmas gifts for the kids. There is NOTHING left over - for dinners out, clothes, make up - NADA. It is humiliating to not be able to just grab a few cocktails, or celebrate a friend's birthday - but when I say I have no money - I have NO money. My life is more on a budget than it has ever been. I know it is because Husband changed careers this year and I left my job - so it was going to have a knock on effect - and there have been incredible pluses in all this - but the downside is the penny pinching. It is a fucking BUZZ KILL. I keep worrying that this will never change - that I'll never end up with writing work and will be scrabbling around trying to find coins under the sofa for the rest of my days. *Sighs again.*

I feel like ever since I had kids I've been on this merry-go-round trying to work/be a mother/have a career/have a life. Since I have had kids I have not moved on in my career/had no money/given up my life. Ok the latter is a lie... There is no point in looking back - even though Husband said last week that I was 'short sighted' to spend my 20s as a TV presenter. Maybe - but I had a LOT of fun. Some of the best times of my life - so I'll never regret that. Plus, it afforded me to buy a flat in London - so it wasn't that 'short sighted.' But I envy those who knew where they were going and went there - had a dream, got the job, got the promotion, have the steady stable lives. And yet... I remember years and years ago - seeing a career's advisor who said my greatest problem (I have many obvs) was the fact that I craved stability whilst wanting an unpredictable and spontaneous career. A complete paradox. Again.

This year has been so great on so many levels - and I'm sure I just need another structured reality show job/writing commission to feel how I have done since I left my job in Feb. That I'm in 'transition' and I will come out the other side. It's just not easy. One the positive days I know this can be done - that all you need is your health, determination and a dash of luck. On bad days I think I am so far away from achieving goals I may as well be in space.

I also am aware that I have written this post or a variation of it - so many times that I AM BORING myself let alone you guys.

So I'll stop.

On a plus side - I have to write a blog that YourTango will syndicate once a month - from this here site. So I'll be getting my old agony aunt head on and being all wise and vaguely interesting at least once a month. Well, I'll try to, at the every least.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Dear Dad

It has taken 23 years and a letter telling him he is either in or out... but finally my Dad is arriving tomorrow to visit.

I can't quite imagine him here, walking through my house. Seeing where I live, the kids' bedrooms, eating at our dining table, taking in our beautiful view. I'm beyond delighted that he's making the trip, that he's giving me his time, and most importantly of all, he's going to be with his grandkids. I wonder if afterwards, he'll stop and consider all the time that he has missed.

We'd fallen out in January, hadn't spoken for several months. My childhood resentments have long been buried, but I could never shake off the anger I felt that he had taken so little interest in my children - because he claimed, 'you live so far away.' An hours flight... Meanwhile he had his step-grandchildren to stay every weekend, devotes years to them - taking them to cricket and golf, cheering on the sidelines at their rugby matches. My bitterness at this sometimes threatened to overwhelm me.

So I wrote this all down. My buddy Chris said, 'you're a writer, so tell him in letter.' It took me several more months to finally do it. When I did, I wrote it in one go. Licked the stamp, posted it - no going back.

Now, we are moving forward. I feel so relieved - so blessed. My greatest fear had been that we would never resolve our issues, that he would die with us estranged.

His personality is HUGE. People take up smoking after he has been talking to them for 10 minutes. He is both enticing and exhausting. A whirlwind of a man. When I was little, I loved nothing more than climbing into the crook of his arm, laying across his chest. I remember his soft jumpers, 'Marc O'Polo' written across them. He made me feel safe.

Husband loves him, the children adore him. He's easy to like. As a teenager my buddies thought he was the coolest Dad - letting us drink cider and renting scary movies on VHS for us to squeal at. Deep down, I've longed for tomorrow. For him to give me his time. Of course I am light years away from the little girl with pigtails and gappy teeth that needed his bear hugs. I'm 41, with a family of my own.

Yet oddly, I there is a part of me, and perhaps there always will be -  wanting to fit into that crook of his arm.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Why are the English so cold part 2

I just don't get it. In Ireland, everyone talks to everyone, all the time.

For example, my Granny used to go to the shops every day at the end of her little lane. There was a newsagents, supermarket, butcher/veg shop, chemist/post office. That was it. It took her on average 2 hours. She went to get my Uncle's cigs, bread, a paper, some meat for dinner and a few veg. Never mind she didn't need anything from the chemist - in she would pop to chew the fat with Mr Boylan and his staff for twenty minutes. She'd take a detour and drop off the paper with an old lady who was immobile. She'd make her tea, spend some time and then head home.

During the day, she'd bake for 'Soldier's Sunday' at church, or if anyone new had moved to the street - she would arrive with an apple pie, or fresh vegetable soup. Then she'd pay the milkman for neighbours, or the fish man on a friday, and she'd mind a neighbour's daughter after school - for free - until the neighbour came home. She gave everything she could of her time, her baking, her care, to her neighbourhood and many people relied on her and valued her. Talking to people, helping them out - was just what you did.

My Dad ('the professional funeral goer' my step-sister calls him) chats to so many folk for most of his  day that he is known as The Bangor Telegraph - he imparts all the news a local paper would. When I go home (and it will always be home in my head) I am always bowled over by how warm, how charitable, how kind, how friendly people are. They always have time, always want to make your day that bit better or easier. It is a world away from London/Southern England.

In the Crown pub in Belfast - there are gorgeous wooden booths, which folk often end up sharing - whilst they sink some Guiness and a bowl of steaming hot stew. I once worked with a camera man who popped in one afternoon whilst over in Ireland filming, and got chatting to a guy in the same booth. They ended up drinking all day, keeping in touch, forming a firm friendship and he was best man at the guy's wedding. True story.

I love the openness of the Irish, their ability to be self-deprecating and charming. They are without ego, without the need to impress - are very much 'take me as you find me.' It is so refreshing, when for the last 20 odd years I have lived in places were the majority of people I find quite cold, often to the point of rudeness. In London, after my son was born a friend gave me the number to a child maunder she knew. When I called the woman she said she also lived in West Hampstead. Then she said she lived in the same street as me. Turned out she lived next door, in the basement flat - and gene though I'd been in my flat for 5 years, I'd never met her.

Even today on the school run, a woman edged past me with her dog - not a 'good morning' or an 'excuse me.' The school run tends to bring me out in a sweat anyway - I only know a handful of people - all lovely - as I didn't do the school run for several years. Sometimes people I know, I've spoken to - look through me. It astounds me. What's the cost of saying hello? Maybe they secretly hate the Irish...

At a gathering at a woman's house recently, I was chatting to a lovely friendly Mum I know, when another woman stepped in front of me and started talking to this Mum - all the the while keeping her back to me. She could't have been more blatantly rude if she tried. Attitudes like this I can't fathom, as the Irish love to introduce folk to one another - 'Here Sammy, you know Jimmy don't you? Oh you do, your Uncle's sister's dog's friend's Mum used to bowl together... remember?'

Ultimately, new people seem to be viewed with suspicion, rather than welcomed with open arms. Whereas where I'm from, new folk are simply friends you have yet to make. Yes the Oirish are the butt of manys a joke - simple, stupid creatures who believe in leprechauns. But I'll take that any day, over the coldness of the Brits.

It genuinely has upset me over the years - several times, hot tears threatening to spill out my eyes, with the injustice of it all. Sometimes it feels like the awful moment at school where the notable team was picked and you stood there, waiting to be picked, and they still picked the kid with permanent nits over you.

My Husband - and antisocial man who loves 'alone time' - never talks to anyone if he can help it. Anywhere - being served in a restaurant, in the supermarket, on the tube, on a train home at night. He despairs at the amount of folk I stop to chat to and warns me on every train journey home lat at night that he will move away if I start yakking to folk in the seats next to us. I usually talk to the world and it's wife - and if I don't, I kind of wither inside - an unwatered plant. The best nights of my life are the ones where I have made new friends - even if just for an evening. That connection, the shared stories, the laughter - is something I love. Mind you some of my mates do warn me that THEY have come to see me for the evening - not to make best friends forever with the folk sinking cocktails at the next table.

I used to think it was just me who was such a soul, but a trip home in the summer reminds me that back where I'm from, everyone is like that. Not suspicious of others, unnerved by them, not forming any kind of judgement.  Even driving up the hill towards my Mum's house one morning, I saw through my car window a girl walking with her yoga matt. She smiled and nodded at me - as did everyone that day as I went for a run over Donaghadee commons by the sea. Not a single person I saw ignored me, or failed to say hello or give me a nod. As the wind whipped through my hair and the sea bashed against the rocks I stood for a second and contemplated the view, the sunshine, the warmth, thinking simply, there is no place like home.