Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The cards we are dealt

Christmas is a funny old time of year. All the sentimental adverts, the supermarkets filled with tasty festive fare for the family and folks zipping around buying up gifts for those they love. I always find myself stepping back, kind of feeling like the kid who came to the party but no one asked to join in the games. Perhaps it is because I don't come from the unified sibling-filled family - the one singing carols around the fire. We don't all pile home to Mum and Dad's and sleep in our old rooms, joking about all the Xmases of old. It is something I hope I give my kids...

Anyway, there is something so forced about all the revelry, something as cliched as an Xmas card, that always unsettles me. I can't help but think about those who don't have the husband buying them diamonds, the cherubic kids to wake up with at dawn's crack on Xmas day, those who don't have a roof over their heads, or can't afford to shower their family in gifts.

It is the time of year when so many feel they have failed: their lives not picture postcard perfect, their stockings not full, their mistletoe unused. All that money wasted on pointless gifts and status symbols, makes me wonder - have we forgotten what Xmas is really all about in a sea of designer handbags and cashmere jumpers?

Jaysus the last thing you need is another person jangling a fecking box under your nose, or another charity shoving a wedge of dodgy Xmas cards under you door, but perhaps it is time to think of others, instead of ourselves? (Alongside thinking about all those near and dear of course... I'm not a total Grinch).  I read today that the UK is set for the biggest increase in child poverty in a decade. It is due to increase by a whopping 50% by 2020. This Xmas the number of homeless kids will hit an 8 year high - with over 13,000 sleeping in B&Bs, hostels or temporary shelter. 

Often I think back to conversations I had with desperate people who called Samaritans when I volunteered. The one thing that struck me most of all - was how much people's childhood shaped their lives.  Those first ten years so crucial to forming the people we will become. But if your life is one without love, or food, or shelter, or hope - then what for you?

Years ago I was an associate producer on a project called 'Make it Big,' where SKY TV pledged a million pounds to a youth charity. 10 were nominated and I (along with several other producer/director teams) had to make videos to illustrate what the charities set out to achieve. In the end The Chicken Shed won the money - and all credit to them. They were one of the 3 charities I had filmed, so I should have been thrilled. But there was one charity that absolutely broke my heart. (And apparently James Murdoch's - who watched our video and came in holding the VHS aloft, tears streaming down his cheeks). At the time it was called NCH and was based in Highbury, London. They funded many children's homes and various schools and places for troubled/abused/neglected kids. The work they did was simply incredible. I filmed at a school in Margate for extremely vulnerable kids - who had all faced neglect or abuse/sexual abuse - and used art as therapy. From all the darkness they experienced (and their tales were almost beyond comprehension) through drawing, painting and craft, they unleashed all their hurt, betrayal and anger. The art teacher helped them find a voice, one that had never been heard. I've never met braver people in my life.

One child, who was so badly neglected he couldn't cope with living with a family, walked with a limp from all the injuries he sustained - by those supposed to look after him. His art was brilliant. He was handsome, quiet, shy. He wouldn't look me in the eye, but followed me outside to give me a picture of a china cow he painstakingly had drawn and I brought it home and put on my fridge. It haunted me for years. In fact he still does. I often wonder what happened to him. He was months away from 16 (this was back in 2004) and was due to be moved on from his children's home to a council flat - alone in the world at such a young age. I kept asking the charity workers - what next for him? Who would look out for him? Why wasn't more done for him? Why was he dealt such shitty cards in life?

NCH is now Action for Children and their work is unparalleled at giving vulnerable children a brighter future. If this Xmas you have a spare fiver, or two quid, or whatever you tip the milkman/deliveryboy/binmen then please, please donate. Because not everyone got the great cards you (hopefully) did. Money you donate can really make a difference, and at Xmas, is there anything more heart warming than that?

Festive greetings to y'all. May it be your best one yet. CM x

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Where did all the grown-up films go?

Today was as close to heaven as I get... I snuck off to watch a movie all by myself: Hell or Highwater, with a brilliant Jeff Bridges and a revelatory Chris Pine. (As an aside, miss it at your peril). As I sat in the darkened room, I felt such comfort. A movie theatre has always been my go-to place at times of upset, loss, disappointment - and also when I am absolutely desperate to see a film. Sadly, that rarely happens these days... Instead of wanting to get to the flicks 3 times a week, it is maybe 3 times a month.

For a while, I put this down to the fact that I have kids and therefor it is infinitely harder to get to a cinema - even though I have a stunning art deco cinema in my town - replete with a bar... But then it dawned on me that there simply aren't the same type of films made these days that I was once so desperate to watch. (In August I manned to see The Shallows and David Brent... and Finding Dory. EXACTLY).

Sure the 70s and 80s were the halcyon days of cinema - but this year when I read an article with the brilliant Jodie Foster in the Times, I was shocked when she commented that a film like 'The Accused' for which she won one or her two Oscars, wouldn't get made these days. Why is this??

An article by Jonathan Dean  (also in the Times) lists the box office top ten in 1993: Jurassic Park, The Fugitive, The Firm, Sleepless in Seattle, Schindler's List and In the Line of Fire in there...  Groundhog Day at number 13. That list is just teaming with memorable films... Last year, the list is largely re-makes or sequels or kid's films... and how in the world is Ant Man at number 14? Around Jan/Feb we get a quick fix of brilliant films: The Revenant, Room, Spotlight and then..... nada. Bar the odd gem like Hell or Highwater, or Sing Street - nothing. The only other memorable film I have seen this year is Mustang - and that was a Turkish film with a whiff of the brilliant Virgin Suicides about it...

What is Sophia Coppola doing now? Peter Weir (who made 3 of my fav films), Curtis Hanson? Sodenbergh? I find David O'Russell overrated (sorry - I thought Bradley Cooper went from crazy to normal with no turning point in Silver Linings, I hated Joy and found American Hustle bloated -  plus I've never forgotten that Clooney punched him for treating an extra badly... and he made Amy Adams cry on AH - to the point Christian Bale had to intervene and call him an asshole...) and Todd Hayne's Carol was a case of style over substance...

So where are the: In the Bedroom, LA Confidential,  Swingers, Fatal Attraction, Being John Malkovich, Dead Man Walking, Leaving Las Vegas, Rosemary's Baby, Almost Famous, Tootsie, Footloose, Flashdance, American Werewolf in London, After Hours, Witness, Moonstruck, Stand By Me, The Big Chill, Dead Poets, Silence of the Lambs, American Beauty, Little Children, Clerks, Good Will Hunting, Out of Sight, Thelma and Louise, Goodfellas, Rushmore, My Own Private Idaho, JFK,  Sideways, You can Count on Me, Memento, Se7en, Brokeback Mountain, Eternal Sunshine, Boogie Nights etc. etc. etc. ???

WHERE ARE THEY? Is it just bloody Marvel characters ad infinitum?? According to Dean's article, 71 comic book based films are in the works. SIGH.

I preferred Robert Downey Junior in Two Girls and a Guy than in any of his Iron Man formulaic hits.... because I am not a 12 year old boy... Obviously these type of Blockbuster films have an audience and I don't dispute the necessity of such films to bring butts on seats and cash flowing in - but what I do resent is that these are the only type of films getting made... Do the studios and indies think that we have dumbed down? That people over 30 only venture to the cinema with their sprogs in tow? That we need CGI and loud explosions to be enthralled? I just need a good script...

I am desperate to have lists of films that I urgently need to watch.... Like the time I cycled in the rain to see Crash, or made my husband drive for 50 mins and pay twice what I usually do to see the excellent Whiplash. (Yes that was only a couple of years ago - but it falls into the Oscar handful of great films). I want to come home and hand my babysitter the £30 I pay her and think - that film? Totally worth it. 

But that SO rarely happens. I remember the good old days of boring colleagues with my endless talk on such beauties as Drive - filled with enthusiasm to finally see something adult, engaging and downright memorable.

We have no end of acting talent - we have brilliant writers - female directors gagging to get work - and in a male dominated industry, the best we can come up with is - Thor?

I miss going to the cinema. But most of all I miss wanting to go there... Please, can things change?

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Every summer has it's own story...

I'll be honest, 2016 hasn't been one of my favourite years - Brexit, Prince dying, a bad knee wound and a never ending winter, made it feel like I was wading through treacle for any joy. But finally, summer rolled around and this year - as usual - I packed it with adventures to fill the kids' days and also provide me with some much needed change of scenery.

First up I discovered my fav TV show of this year and now the summer seems unthinkable without the wonder and joy of Stranger Things. Little Eleven brought out every maternal bone in my body. A total gem. Miss it at your peril - on Neflix now.

Then came a trip away with a family - they had the villa next door. We walked across lava fields in craters which the sea had once filled - picked up lizards and shells... We swam in crystal waters, ate delicious prawns and sipped beers and rose all day long. It was bliss. 

After a quick pitstop home I headed to my motherland... and had three of my favourite weeks of the year. Yes, I had to write, but in between, I caught up with friends and family, swam in the sea, and enjoyed my nightly (with children catching Pokemon) walks along here (ending with a swift Shortcross gin in Pier 36... would have been rude not to...)

We also did a tonne of rock pooling.....


There were old schoolmate meet ups... (ladies aren't you glad I kept those letters you wrote back in '91??)

And I got amongst the brilliant Open House Festival that is run yearly in Bangor. In only it's second season - it still managed to be packed with foodie, theatre, music and drinks events all through August. Flicking through the programme I decided the quirkier the better so...  First up was Big Telly's wonderful improvised play on The Faerie Thorn... a bewitching yarn with life lessons for all. Hilarious and bizarre, with a Q and A with the author afterwards... Go see when it hits theatres next year... 

The following week I headed over to a gin tasting session at Fealty's bar where I discovered Hoxtons gin (you sip with cranberry to compliment the coconut and grapefruit flavours) and converted to The Botanist - an amazing gin... My gin partner in crime had a train to catch to Dublin the next morning - amazingly she made it. Hats off to you Patricia... 

Unbelievably in Ireland the sun shone and my kids went off each day from 10-4 to play tennis at my old club. They loved it... I wandered around lost in nostalgia, remembering my days there as a glass collector and barmaid... Meanwhile, my mother is moving house so she handed me a huge bag - in it had every letter I'd ever received until I was 21... There were my old vinyl records, photos, wedding dress, school uniform and postcards, stickers, keepsakes from a lifetime ago... Where the hell did 20 plus years go? 

I sneaked my son into his first 15 film - a rite of passage. All went well apart from the Durex advert and a trailer for a creepy horror called 'Lights out.' Thankfully we were both entertained by a super tanned and ripped Blake Lively avoiding being eaten by a great white shark.. and we still managed to get on our wetsuits and get in the sea when we all went off to Donegal...

Yes, that is me doing a handstand...

We stayed at the glorious country house hotel Rathmullan - where there is no better breakfast in Ireland and everything is discreetly put on your room - which feels like you are drinking free dark and stormies, until you get the bill and nearly pass out.

We started a new tradition - Ridge and Rounders. Bring a bottle of fine red wine, plastic cups, a bat and stumps, and race around like a lunatic, stopping for a red wine warmer and then a dip in the freezing sea. Nothing beats it.

Rathmullan is easily one of the highlights of the year. It is one of the few hotels I have stayed at with kids, where when it rains, you almost feel relieved. You can jump in the indoor pool or sink into the sofas by the fire and eat cream tea scones with tea. The kids run feral (all good until the bar rings you asking you to collect them.... eek) and you spend your days salty, sandy and smiling. I'm always devastated to leave - but the waistband of my jeans less so. 

And it wasn't just me who had fun.... the kids had a ball....

There is no greater joy than catching a teensy crab... (special thanks to Ella McClelland for these beautiful photographs - she has an eye that one...) 

And so... after a 5 weeks we are back here.. to sunny England, and a flurry of school uniforms to sort out and a to do list as long as my arm... All ready for that back-to -school feeling. Except, I'm not really ready to let go of summer yet. I cried when I left Ireland... Home is... home. The people, the seafood, the great gin... (I thank you Muriels - the best bar I know)...

Most of all I miss the sea. I forgot how important it is to me, to be near it. To breathe in the sea and air and breathe out all the stresses of life... When my kids are grown, when their schooling ends, I will return for good. No question. 

PS To Katy and Fergus and the Pokemon walks, Team McC in Rathmullan, V and Nat for the dinners, Carly for the coffee (and James for being cute) to Fealty's for the liquor and Patricia for the craic, for the chat after 25 years with my fav teacher Mr Cinnamond, the wonderful week in Lanza with the Porthouse massive, for the best lunch of my year with you Al, and for the gossip the MCB ladies.... Most of all thanks to my Mum for letting us rabble descend on you... Summer 2016 may just be my best yet. 

Friday, 1 July 2016

The world has gone mad part two: Love Island

Admittedly, I do not watch reality shows. Not because they aren't enthralling, hilarious, scandalous and entertaining - but because I don't have enough time to do anything these days - and often reality TV only seems to highlight everything that is wrong with our society.

Case in point: I read today that a couple had sex on a show called 'Love Island.' In full view of their fellow contestants, who all share the same room. Incredibly, the guy had already had sex that week with another contestant in the same bed. (One can only hope he bothered to change the sheets between girls but is doubtful). With girl two it was dark, but no doubt the sounds of their activities would have alerted their bedroom buddies as to what was going on - and the cameras on the TV show are able to see through the dark - giving all their families, friends and colleagues a glimpse at their most intimate moments. Alarmingly, during his previous encounter, the fellow housemates had 'rate' their performance as they shagged.


Now, I'm no prude. I will also confess that my guilty pleasure was Celebrity Love Island, back in 2006. I was feeding my newborn son at ungodly hours and the shenanigans of these muppet D list (or Z list) celebs in a luxury beachy resort kept me entertained. Even then, Rebecca Loose - or Loos or whatever she was called - famed for having an 'alleged' affair with David Beckham, had the decency to go to a toilet cubicle to get frisky with human sperm bank Callum Best. (Known for... er... well nothing but sleeping with starlets I think and always having a tan). She even had the sense to un-mic herself - obviously a pro at such illicit stolen moments. At the time it was scandalous. Well until she appeared on another show and masturbated a pig (they were running a farm obviously). I didn't catch this momentous piece of TV but at the time I remember thinking that we were stooping to an all time low with such 'entertainment.'

I had hoped the reality TV bubble would burst when it got to Big Brother 75 or whatever - I mean how many wannabe tragic 'I'm crazy meeeee' types could we dig up?

But when I read the double standards of some beauty queen being de-throned because she got frisky on TV (same show Love Island - or maybe should be called 'Peep show Island') but the guy is seen as stud, it makes me realise how the old double standards for men and women still exists.

But that's another issue. What concerns me is my kids are growing up in a world where it is deemed acceptable to screen people having sex - and also that there are people willing to do this. Who in no way seem to care about their future job prospects, relationships, families, or the fact that this footage will HAUNT THEM FOREVER.

I don't obviously watch this trash - I'm not judging those who do. I am judging ITV2 and any programme makers who seem to think this is what the British public want to watch; because the thought process will be - let's go bigger and better and wilder to attract more viewers and hype and column inches. What next I fear....

Recently I found an old Elle magazine dated in 1992. In it Vanessa Paradis is talking about wanting to have many kids, Tess Daly is a model and mercifully silent, Colin Firth has just landed a big role as John McCarthy in a new drama called 'Hostages.' It was the year BBC's Elderado was launched, Blind Date was still the riskiest show on TV and we all fell in love with the brand new show 'the Big Breakfast.' In those days, without the infinite amount of channels to choose from - the 4 we had didn't have to up the stakes to make headline worthy TV.  Blind Date simply relied on humour and innuendo and ran for 18 series.

I have never missed the 90s more... 

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The world has gone a little bit Kanye

I went to bed on Thursday night pretty happy - I'd just had the most amazing weekend/ 4 days of my entire year (a brilliant 25th school reunion and a fab dinner/theatre evening with an amazing writer/hero/showrunner and her lovely sons) and this had lifted a somewhat hideous year to new heights. Plus I'd just had prosecco with a good chum and through my buzzy boozy mist I assumed all would be well with the world.

Then I woke up.

I spent Friday in a daze, just stunned by what had happened. Outside school my kids' headmistress looked gutted, as did any other sane rational, educated friend I met. Could Brexit have changed my opinion on people? After all, we are all entitled to our opinion. After all, we are a democracy and voted as such.

BUT. Two days later chatting to some people who voted leave (I only know 4 in total who did) and they shuddered at the thought of Boris and Trump in cahoots. I wanted to scream at them 'YOU VOTED FOR THIS YOU MORONS' - did people not think it through? Did they not see the list of people suggesting that leave was a good plan and think 'Hmmm Putin, Trump and Boris....' maybe it isn't such a good idea after all.

Now as 2 million regret their decision, the country is in meltdown, Cameron has resigned, Labour are in turmoil, the pound slumps, house prices dip and everyone scratches their heads and no one has any clue what to do next I look around, filled with anger thinking, 'why???'

I know deep down that a person's politics is not the sum total of who they are. My own father voted to leave - and I had to hang up on his the other day because he clearly hadn't thought it all through - but thankfully is not a racist twat who fears that migrants are taking his jobs and NHS hospital bed... I know that I should just smile and be like - good for you, you voted - you won. Good job! But I can't. I'm still too gutted. Too ashamed at what my country has become - what we look like to Europe and beyond. Too sad that my kids cannot now work in 27 different countries, that europeans in UK are facing hate crimes, that the narrow minded bigots have won the day.

As I reach for the Irish passport applications, I am hopeful that no one will invoke article 50. I am hopeful this is all one giant shambles soon to be reversed. That the country will make more sense than the Kanye twitter rant it now resembles. It can't get much worse.... or can it?

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Class of '91

A rash of pictures were posted on Facebook, many of the class of 1991 squeezed into their finest formal dresses and stiff tuxes. Nostalgia kicked in and before we knew it there was talk of a 25 year reunion. Initially there was much enthusiasm and promises of attending. But as the day drew nearer, some folk dropped out, others were understandably busy and most of those I still keep in touch with declined to go.

So I debated it - should I buy some flights, set plans in stone? Or would I take the line many spouted, 'I see those I want to see, have kept in touch with my close friends, so why bother going?' But the more I thought it through - the more my gut yelled out 'Just GO!' 

Yeah, I still see a fair few from my school days - in fact I made the best friends of my life there - but to swerve a reunion because 'if you haven't seen them in 25 years then why bother now' somewhat missed the point... You go because you remember the laugh you had in second year chemistry with S or the sneaky fags you smoked on route to squash/rowing with H... The bus journey home with J and secret crush you had on X...  You go to see if anyone has changed and if so how? You go because at least 7 if not more are no longer walking on this planet and so you are a lucky one... you are still here. You go because the organisers are old buddies who have put so much energy and time into gathering the masses and you want to support them. You go because there is something magical in meeting someone after 25 years and realising how much you missed them. You go because so many of these people knew you at your most YOU and still love you. You go because life is short and jaysus where did 25 years disappear?

You go because you were so damn lucky to know so many great, generous, funny, warm people who 25 years on are still exactly that. Of course in a year of 270, there are folk you barely remember, or never even knew. There are many who you wished were there who didn't show up. There is never enough time to get around everyone and hear their stories, filling in the years... 

But one thing I never expected - was to see so much joy. Everyone smiling and hugging and just so pleased to be there. There was no boasting or bragging, or evil looks of the 'you ruined my life when I was 13'; there was no animosity or hidden resentments rising to the surface after the seventh pint... There was just a room of tipsy happy folk dancing to 80s and 90s tunes and remembering just how good we all had it... It was like 25 years had never happened. 

I'm beyond glad I went. Most of all I'm pleased so many folk are well and happy - life hasn't knocked all the youth and chutzpah and enthusiasm from them. They still shone. Roll on 2021. Wouldn't miss it for the world. 

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Good Grief

The whole week, my stomach had churned with fear and paranoia and some kind of unresolved stress. I'd been writing a script and convinced myself that it would end badly - I'd get pulled off the draft, that I'm out of my depth, that I'm just a big old fake. Hell, maybe I had PMT thrown into the mix - but since my hysterectomy, these days I don't have periods to solve the query of 'why am I behaving so crazily?' I swear to god, it was like I knew it wasn't going to end well. I just had this bad feeling, this impending sense of doom.

Then, standing on a freezing cricket pitch, at 6:08pm,  having just dropped my son off after our worst row ever - I got a text from my friend Thea, saying 'have you seen this, I think it's a hoax.' It was a link to a newspaper article. I caught sight of the headline and just froze. Her text was followed by Facebook messages and phone calls, did I know the news? Prince was dead.

It was like the world stopped. Time stopped. I just couldn't begin to accept this news, take it in, process it in any way. I stumbled to my local pub, hoping alcohol would numb my sense of loss - feeling faintly ridiculous that I was so traumatised by his untimely death. Because, how is it possible that one can be so devastated about the loss of someone one has never met?

It's hard to put into words for those who don't understand. See with me, if you asked anyone to sum up the loves of my life that aren't my family and mates - really, it's 3: Movies, Halloween and Prince.
All 3 have brought me untold joy - but only one was/is my hero. I loved him for 32 years - and in so many ways he inspired me, in so many ways he saved me.

Those who don't have huge passions in life - save that of making bucks - aren't gonna get it. Because a passion in life - a true passion - is never about ££££. It's about the sheer buzz that it gives you. How happy it makes you feel. Likewise those with cosy cheery upbringings are never gonna know what it is like to feel saved by music - to feel less alone when you hear a song that sounds like it has been written for you alone. All through my life, Prince was with me every step of the way - and the pinnacle of all of that was getting to hear him live. Man, it was such an electric experience - mainly because he loved performing so much - it was like nothing on earth. I'm gutted beyond words that I'll never hear him again jam to Let's go Crazy, or tease us with Hot Thing or lead us melodically to Paisley Park. That I'll never see him get off to his own brilliant music.

Losing him, is a loss to the world musically, and a loss to me simply because that little bit of joy - the anticipation of playing the 'where is he playing tonight' game has gone. The maze we all went through to get tickets, to queue for hours, to show our devotion. All gone. Of course, we have his music - his incredible legacy - and perhaps much more will be unveiled as his Vault is opened... But the world suddenly feels less bright, life feels more finite, time feels more precious.

I don't give a fuck about anyone who judges me for my grief and my sense of loss. How dare anyone tell you how to feel. With grief - there is no right or wrong. You just are.

I take comfort in knowing so many others felt exactly as I did - not least that so many revered musicians such as Pearl Jam, The Stones, Elton John, Springsteen, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Lenny Kravitz and the remaining Beatles all commented that he was the greatest performer that they had ever seen, greatest guitarist - with Justin Timberlake stating a fact - that day, 21st April 2016 we lost the world's greatest living musician. Some fan groups I'm a member of all shared bootlegs and interviews and articles and what not - that has made the last week more bearable, and one of discovery - finding out so much about the most private man in pop.

Babble asked me to write something, which I did after a sleepless night, at 5am the next day. A week on and I'm still sad, but I'm grateful that I saw him 5 times including his last ever UK gig - where he was energetic and youthful and brilliant as he was 20 years ago...

He wasn't just a celebrity to me. He felt like a buddy, a companion who understood when everyone else did not. He was one of the greatest loves of my life. Even though I never met him, I'll miss him forever.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Happy as a clam

Years ago I had a friend call Tanya. She was witty and smart, a businesswoman, a dog lover and a body hater. She was amazonian and tall, but in her mind she was wildly overweight -  forever trying to diet and find a way of liking herself. At the time I was a stone and a half heavier than I am now, from a traveller's diet of fries and nachos washed down with cocktails and beer. I too despaired about my figure, so she sent me to see her trainer, a lovely beefy bulky chap called fetchingly, 'Rainbow.'

Rainbow got out his callipers - measured my flab and announced I was obese. I walked along the Auckland waterside and wept. It was Fri 13th Nov 1995. I was the only traveller I have ever met who got herself a nutritionist on her trip around the world. Jenny took no prisoners and certainly no fat and basically shamed me into losing 10kgs. She made me write a food diary, hit the gym, forgo carbs, say goodbye to creamy cocktails and sugary shakers and embrace vodka, fresh lime and soda. Single measures. (Single measures!!!)  She gave me a back a flat stomach and the ability to climb back into my jeans. God bless her.

I left Auckland a good deal smaller than when I'd arrived. The year before when I was planning my big world trip, I had folded jumpers in Gap, and my main food source was the tasty salty fatty produce from the Thomas Bakery across the road. Pasties, sausage rolls and cheese sandwiches had filled my days and helped me fill my clothes - and then some. So by the time I'd even landed in NZ, I was curvy and then some.

Tanya, and her trainer both told me one thing. It doesn't matter what size you are as long as you are happy. Whoever is happy in their skin gets the gold star. I always remembered that - and through my years of curves, my months of skinny and all the stages in between, my figure has never made me happy or indeed really sad. My body has produced two fabulous kids, made me rarely sick, supported me in all my endeavours and although isn't toned to perfection, is reasonably strong.

Lately, I've been looking around and noticing that Tanya's line about life applies not just to waist size, but to all spheres. It doesn't matter what car you drive, what house you live in, what clothes you throw on your back, what job you do - if you aint happy - nothing is gonna bring you joy. I watch as I see folk struggle to find what makes them happy - they think it will be if they have the next rung on the career ladder, the 4th bedroom and kitchen extension, the botox, the diet, the new shoes. The goalposts move every time and happiness, it just seems that little bit away - just out of reach, every time.

Recently a good mate RK told me of how her kid was bullied at school by another child. This vicious little bugger announced to my friend's son that 'you live in a house only worth £200k, your Mum is poor and you'll end up being a cleaner when you are older.' None of these statements are true - and even if they were there is nothing wrong with being any of them. I was astounded that a kid of 11 could even think this way - could be so cruel, so materialistic. Thankfully my friend's son is a great kid and he responded saying he would grow up, get a wife and have kids and have loads of mates - and that is what mattered. That soon silenced vicious kid.

It got me thinking - what makes me happiest of all? What times in my life have I been filled up with joy? They all involve my family, my friends, sunshine, sometimes the sea, wine, chat and laughter. They all - every single one of them - are an experience, not a 'thing.' Sure, my work has brought me joy - I love writing beyond measure - but the real joy of my working days has been in the fun I have had with colleagues. As my mate RK said to her son, 'People make you happy - that's the key.'

I'm as guilty as the next person in coveting stuff - reading blogs by fashion starlets in their 20s who spend days in the bath slathering themselves in products or in the gym, fashioning elaborate breakfasts with eggs and avocados and having endless time to pour over clothes and pick cushions - and I have thought - dear god why is that not me??? Then I remembered I've been there and had fun and did all that - thankfully when lives weren't lived online. I've had the pre-kids years when you dance round London dating and spend £400 on a meal for two at the newest wanky restaurant. It was ace, but I'm happier now watching Jurassic World and eating the kids' Easter eggs.

It took me a long time, and it is a constant journey - the cliched marathon not a sprint - but I get what Tanya meant. Being happy in the here and now - that's the gold star.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Curtain Twitchers

Waaaay back I used to get asked why I left sunny Belfast for English shores - sure, didn't Ireland have the sea and the mountains and the beaches and the green green pastures and er... endless rain? What's not to love?

Back then, I didn't appreciate the beauty of Ireland, the charm of it's sometimes parochial ways and the friendliness of the people. Instead, I loathed the politics of the place - sick to the back teeth of the never ending war, the narrow minded attitudes of the Catholic church and most of all the nosiness of one's neighbours. People commented on everything, passed their time staring over the fence and spreading gossip like wildfire. In fact when I was only 6 a woman who lived at the top of my street spread such venomous and frankly insane rumours about me to the point my Father had to take her aside whispering talk of lawyers and slander. Her loud mouth finally shut. Looking back, who trashes a 6 year old - just because she has happened to join the same school as your daughter?

So, post school aged 18 I fled to the big smoke, delighted to be anonymous and forgotten amongst the millions. There was no more gossip and comments about my Mother living in sin with a man, no more checking on who drove what car, could afford what house, was seeing which man. In a moment it stopped. I felt free, optimistic and above all inspired by the busy buzzy streets around me, the multi-cultured lifestyles and people. I felt at home.

Loathe as I was to do it, I left London in 2008. House prices and lack of decent schools drove me out. Only the mega rich can afford to live there any more - it is a sad indictment of our times that 50,000 families have been shipped out of there in the last three years and a third of the entire population there want to move out - as 54% feel their mortgage or rent is creating untold stress.

So I found a leafy pretty little market town that my best friend had moved to a year previously. It ticked all the boxes and we moved into a 3 bed Victorian semi and spent the first year regretting it. Had I moved into a Daily-Mail-reading Tory-loving up-their-own-arses village? The first function I attended there, I was ignored by most of the pressed-linen wearing women, or grilled about my job by the men to the point I could see them putting me into my 'box.' I was the only woman wearing Converse and drinking beer from a bottle. The folk at that tedious BBQ hosted by the people we bought our house from, were at best insipid and at worse dull and money/status fixated. I wheeled my 2 year old home in his buggy and cried.

But eventually I met some like minded folk, especially in the last year - and they have raised my spirits enormously; they drink too much, swear like sailors and like me, feel they have yet to grow up.

On a whim we put our house on the market the week before Xmas. I know. Who does that - right? Insane-o people obviously - because no fecker wants to buy a house before Xmas. Thing is, we saw one we liked - kind of by accident and so we rushed to move forward with the whole selling/buying nightmare. My house had not been on sale for more than 12 hours when I walked up to school on Friday 11th December through the rain, with a mere day to make my home 'sellable.' On route to and from school I ran into 3 people I know and all 3 said 'I see your house is up for sale.' There wasn't even a sign outside the front door! Clearly they had discovered this from the might Rightmove... One commented that they knew the house I was hoping to buy, but I probably 'wouldn't get it' and 'you never do.' Whatever hope and positivity I had was lost by the time I made my breakfast that day.

Husband took our son to a couple of sporting events over Xmas and had more than a dozen people accost him with questions on 'where are you planning to go?' Etc. With the advent of Rightmove - I am certain that everyone I know has now had a good look at my loo, bedroom and 'oh I don't like the rug in her lounge do you? Too garish...'

People don't even wish you a happy new year or ask how your Xmas has gone - no, they just launch into such chat as 'I considered seeing the house you are going for but no... don't want it' with a wrinkle of their nose. Or 'Have you had an offer yet?' *fake sympathy* 'Oh that's a shame...' Then - 'Has the one you want had offers?' If you say 'no' they roll off a list of why then it isn't a good buy - otherwise why hasn't it been snapped up? If you say 'yes' they are wide eyed and reply 'yeah, you probably won't get it then...'  Such joy! Such warmth! Such supportive attitudes!

The curtain twitching brigade, or rather the Rightmove junkies, are in their element. They know what you house is worth 'over priced if you ask me...' and know what you can afford, 'I mean really, it's a 1960s horror...' and have opinions on all. It feels like the nightmare where you are naked at school and you can't wake up.

What does it remind me of? The blatant nosiness, the barely concealed jealousy, the judgement, the speculation? Yup Belfast. The place I wanted to leave behind. I'm suddenly back in 1986 but with the internet to divulge even more information about my life. (I know this has a twisted logic when I do in fact blog about my life - but in doing so I feel I choose what I share - and in that, it gives me my own control in a bizarre way).

Maybe if we don't sell our house, if we don't buy across the canal, then the writing is on the wall and it is time to go back to the place with the sea, the mountains, the green green pastures and the endless rain. At least there it's better the devil you know. Curtain twitchers, be damned. 

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Hello 2016....

It's January so the papers and rags are filled with obligatory shots of gym bunnies and relentless articles on hot 'new' diets that pledge to revolutionise our bodies if we eat some seeds and nuts and drink vegetable smoothies until we are a walking colonic.  What I find hilarious about them all - is essentially they are all saying the same thing, dressed up in fancy new ways: eat more veg, drink more water, run around more and you will feel better. Any fool can see that a diet of cake and burgers isn't going to shift the tyre around your middle.

I'm not stupid enough to limit myself for eternity to eating no carbs and ignoring the call of a freshly baked carrot cake - so I'm going Bear Grylls. No, I'm not going to drink my own piss and forage for snails in the garden - I'm doing the 80/20 idea. So Mon - Fri I will be virtuous and Sat/Sun show me the pizza! Husband says that with my daily Nutri bullet shake (TIP - add protein powder for a creamy fab shake - and less water) and my lunch of courgetti and crab with lemon and chilli - I have a fairly balanced diet anyway. So why is it so hard these days to shift 6 pounds? Because dear readers, I am over 40 - when your metabolism slows down as well as everything else.

My main rule of eating is this - cook it yourself. So bar the odd Thai curry paste, I make every sauce and dressing and meal and snack myself. Fresh local produce - bar the odd avocado. When I say odd, I mean I eat 2 a day... The only issue - is a healthy 'Eat Nourish Glow' life takes time and £££££££££. All that fresh fish (monkfish cost the price of a second mortgage) and nuts and oils and chia seeds cost so much more than a white loaf and a packet of cheese. I spent a whopping £30 on two packs of Chia seeds the other day - and actually screamed for joy in the shop when the cashier announced it was 'buy one get one for a penny.' It was almost workout carrying the 4 packs home. Protein powder, flaxseeds and fresh fruit - not cheap either. Is the idea we all are so skint we can't afford to eat and thus lose weight?

Anyway, this blog wasn't meant to be about food - it was meant to be about hopes and plans for 2016.  Because you have to have them, right? The minute Big Ben chimes, you've got to know EXACTLY what you are giving up and taking up for the next 365 days. Most of which you will have taken up again/given up trying by Jan 11th.

So I aint giving up any vice - bar alcohol for Jan. Not to help my liver - but just to prove to myself I can go 31 days without a drink and not kill my husband and give away my kids. Stayed tuned.

But having read Caitlin Moran's column yesterday - I decided I am giving one thing: anxiety. I have spent so much of my life worrying what every fecker thinks - worrying am I 'good enough,' worrying that I will fail - and you know what? The worst - what I am expecting to be the worst - never ever happens. It is the things you NEVER expect that blindside you. A dear writer mate also said that after year and years of stressing because he felt his muse, his ideas would never appear - only for them always to appear - he has stopped stressing. It doesn't help - it isn't a necessary part of the creative process. I spent most of last year with stomach churning angst - especially over the summer - thinking I simply couldn't write. While I'm no Sarah Treem - I am me. And I can do it. I have just remind myself of this and try not to stress over it all so much.

So like Caitlin and like my mate Chris, I am giving up anxiety. It will be the hardest challenge of my life I reckon - so ingrained in me is stress - but I've got to - as it makes me ill. I had a wee read of this guy Gerad Kite (an acupuncturist)'s advice for a calmer life in yesterday's Times mag - and I have to say - I'll be employing as many of his tactics as I can. (The man is a revelation).

Because dear readers, I am anything but calm. I am a stress head, insaneo worry wort when it comes to all things stress. I am OCD. I am a control freak. I need to sort this before I take myself to an early grave. Headspace app here I come.

So my plans are thus: I'm stepping away from as much social media as is possible. I never really indulged in Instagram - and am bored of Facebook. For all it's joys and sharing it is also a performance and we are all guilty of dancing to that tune. Who cares if 56 folk or 560 like my glam pic - it doesn't change the fact I have dinner to make for the kids and 6 Ikea bags of laundry to fold...  Twitter is informative, so I'll cast an eye on it, but all else - including the sidebar of shame - must be gone.

I'm going to fear less. The greatest joy of my last few years has been striving in a new career and whilst it put the fear of god into my every step - I am now in my happiest ever place. I have life balance and it has taken me FOREVER to get here. Now I need the head balance to match it. Fear holds us back - makes us doubt ourselves when in fact we all got to where we are now, because we are so freakin' great. Deep down, we all know we can - we just need to have faith.

One of the happiest ever times of my life was on a beach in Devon. Diving through the roaring waves with my friend's daughter, looking up at the sun, the salt water momentarily stinging my eyes. I was utterly in that moment - not wishing for or being distracted by anything else. My motto of this year is to be more in the moment. Appreciate my Husband's great dinners, the walk to school on a crisp cold day, the first coffee of the morning, the view from my dining room table, the log fire at my side. I'm going to watch TV only - not sit on a laptop as I do. I'm going to go for more walks. Listen more than talk. (I know - I know - this one may be a lie... but I'll try) and not be thinking about the next thing on my endless to do list. Life is flying by at a hideous rate so I'm going to try and savour it that little bit more, in the hope it will last longer.

I am going to drink more water. I really am. I must remember to. My 40 year old mate M drinks tonnes of water and has the skin of teenager. It is something I must train myself to do.

Finally, I'm going to be nicer to myself. Husband says I am incapable of relaxing - that I just cannot shut down - I am always thinking of things that need done, writing lists and giving him tasks. That is true. I am incapable of going to bed if the cushions on the sofa are not straight - that - and other slightly cray cray behaviour have to go. I have to train myself to give less of a f*ck.

I always feel I must achieve every single day. That I should be doing XYZ - as 'look at what ABC is doing. I won't get to XYZ if I don't do ABC within the next day'. Well, to hell with that. Enough with the self flagellation. I'm dancing to my own little merry tune - and I need to slow it down to a tango instead of keeping up a foxtrot. Life is pretty great. Happiness isn't if we move house, go on hols, lose 10 pounds, meet Mr Right - it is right now. In each of us.

So here's to 2016. May you enjoy every moment.