Monday, 26 October 2009

How to Have a Really Good Evening

This article was first published on The Bournemouth Echo's website on 19th October 2009 and by The Blog Paper on 20th October 2009.

There are, of course, many and varied ways of having a good evening but I reckon the one that my son and I had yesterday would take some beating.

It’s always a “good thing” to support a worthy cause ... in the current economic climate, it’s not always possible to do as much as one would like to – but if I have the opportunity to do “a little something”, then I do. Leukaemia Research is a charity very close to my heart – not least because my favourite cousin died of leukaemia in her early 30s just a month before my son was born, 12½ years ago.

Last night, the Criterion Theatre in London’s Piccadilly Circus freely opened its doors to be taken over by Leukaemia Research to host “A Special Audience with Stephen Fry” preceded by a champagne reception for a few hundred lucky people. My son and I were amongst those lucky people.

The Reception began at 6.30pm and prior to our National Treasure coming into the Reception, Alastair Campbell mingled and chatted amongst us. Alastair has supported the charity since his best friend, John Merritt, died of leukaemia and then tragically John’s daughter succumbed to the disease too. He’s a friendly man although – as an avid fan of Burnley Football Club – he was clearly distressed that “his” team had lost to Blackburn Rovers the day before. I hope that the Audience with Mr Fry went some way to cheering him up.

Nigella Lawson was also at the Reception and was gracious enough to write a note to my husband who is a great fan of hers and willingly posed for a photograph with me and my son. She asked if my husband was keen on cookery programmes. Naturally my response was “Oh, yes”. It would have been infradig to have been more honest and to tell her that he has more prurient thoughts than cuisine on his mind when he sees her on television. She’s a beautiful, intelligent lady and has at least two more outstanding assets than just her culinary expertise. Mick Hucknall of Simply Red was there and didn’t seem too displeased when I told him that we liked his music. He was also kind enough to have his photograph taken with my son.

Another guest was Ed Victor who is a very well known literary agent. I would very much have liked to have met him to tell him that I am, at least in my own not-so-humble opinion, an undiscovered literary genius but sadly I didn’t get the opportunity to meet him. I was, however, so pleased that he was there as – had it not have been for Leukaemia Research – he wouldn’t have been anywhere. Ten years ago, on the day of his 60th birthday, he was diagnosed with the disease and it was purely through the wonderful research funded by the charity that he survives in good health a decade on. It was Ed Victor’s idea to organise occasional “Special Audiences” with various celebrities in order to raise money for the charity.

One person who I was lucky and privileged enough to meet was the original Calendar Girl. Not Julie Waters – who played her in the 2003 film – but the real life lady, Annie Clarke whose husband had died of leukaemia and who raises money for and, who with her friends, gave a great deal of “exposure” to the charity’s work.

Shortly before 7.00pm, a very tall man appeared in the room. I’m sure that just about everyone in the UK (if not, since the advent of global sale of television programmes, the entire world) is aware that Stephen Fry is a witty, enormously intelligent, erudite speaker, talented actor and brilliant writer. Those attributes would be enough to make most people admire him. I do. I also LIKE him. He is kind, generous of nature, warm, friendly and has the most wonderful way of making everyone he speaks with feel as if they are really the most important person in the world to him. I was especially overwhelmed when my son (who was the very youngest person there), bravely and with great aplomb introduced himself to Mr Fry using his Twitter name – and Stephen, bless him, repeated his Twitter name and then greeted him, without ANY prompting whatsoever, using my son’s real life name. This man must have a memory the size of this planet! My son, who’s a talented young artist, gave a drawing he’d done of Stephen to him – at which point, the splendid Mr Fry knelt down and my son forgot to be grown-up, couldn’t help himself and gave this great, gentle man a hug. I chatted to Stephen for several minutes, easily fell prey to his delightful charms and hugs, kisses and photographs ensued.

The actual show began at 8.00pm. It was an intimate “audience”. The BBC’s Alan Yentob interviewed Stephen about his life, his work, his likes and dislikes, his successes and his self-perceived failures. He was astonishingly open about his bi-polarity. He had the audience laughing and crying. Two hours passed in a flash and members of the audience were given the opportunity of asking questions. Stephen answered each question with characteristic humour, empathy, kindness and honesty.

My son desperately wanted the chance of another chat with our National Treasure so, after the show, we went to the Stage Door. I managed to get my ‘phone’s camera muddled up with its video recorder so we now have a recorded moving memento of the evening.

I’m rarely at a loss for words but I truly can’t find the right ones to impart how wonderful the evening was. Perhaps my son described it in exactly the right way ... “It was the best time I’ve ever, ever, EVER had”. I concur.

If you ever have the chance of seeing Stephen on stage or of meeting him – do it! I can assure you that it really is a very good way of spending an evening.

(If you’re interested in learning more about the wonderful work that Leukaemia Research enables, do – PLEASE – visit their website at

Monday, 19 October 2009

2 o'clock in the morning

(This blog was first published on the Bournemouth Echo's website and also by The Blog Paper on 1st October 2009).

The house is mine. It is quiet apart from the low hum of the dishwasher, the beeping of the ‘fridge freezer which my husband, for the third time in six weeks, has tried to fix by defrosting the already pristine and frost-free freezer. He is slowly coming around to the idea that we do actually need a new one ... and it hurts him so!

I can hear the sounds of a sleeping house – at least one with two sleepy dogs in it. I have a small West Highland White Terrier sprawled, tummy upwards, at my side and an enthusiastically idiotic German Shepherd also lying on her back at my feet. Occasionally one of them snuffles or groans slightly and it is a very good feeling to be alone but in such congenially uncommunicative company.

I moan a great deal of the time about suffering from insomnia but at this hour, my gripes are very few as I question who exactly I would be if I didn’t suffer from it. I am a creature of the night. If I need to think about something carefully and logically I do so far better after midnight than I ever manage to during the daytime.

If there is ONE element of creativity in me, it never rears its “innovative” head during daylight hours. I just never feel quite confident enough during the daytime to write about how I’m feeling or anything about which I feel strongly; under cover of darkness, however, my fingers struggle to keep pace with the rapid release of some often very mundane thoughts – perhaps mistakenly assuming that what I have to impart is somehow important.

Sometimes I take a look at the time and think, “Heck, my son has to be at school in less than six hours” but such thoughts are fleeting and I don’t take much notice of them. This is my time.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Oh, Baby, Baby - It's a Wild World

This blog was first published on The Bournemouth Echo's website and by The Blog Paper on 24th September 2009.

About 5 minutes ago, I had a baby – hang on ... it was over 12 years ago – but my instinct to protect my son hasn’t decreased with the years and is probably more highly developed now, than it ever was when he was a babe-in-arms.

It’s been a roller-coaster of a week ... starting off with my son, once again, having been most dreadfully upset at being given “a hard time” at school and being distressed at being disrupted in his lessons by classmates whose only ambitions in life appear to become shelf-stackers at supermarkets.

Once again, on collecting from school, a very sullen and disgruntled little boy got into my car. And a very vociferous little boy started the familiar routine of pleading with me to be home-educated. I have to say, that home-education is a thought that crosses my mind with great frequency but I’ve always discounted it as I know my son and I also know myself pretty well. I quite simply would not have the patience to educate my son, myself, at home.

I am an impatient person and have a tendency to metaphorically tap my fingers in a most irritating fashion when people don’t “catch on” quickly enough for my liking – not an ideal trait for imparting anything to my son who, if he doesn’t want to know what one is talking about, is a manipulative little “wotsit” and will quite deftly bring the conversation around to what HE wants to discuss. We would not be a good teacher/pupil combo!

I wrote a polite but firmly worded letter to my son’s class teacher and also the headteacher querying why there appeared to be so much disruption in his school and why was he not getting what either he, or I, considered to be a fair crack at the whip at a decent education. Yesterday I received a call from the headteacher assuring me that my queries would be looked into and meanwhile, he’d spoken to my son who had voiced his grievances most eloquently and was now considered by the headteacher to be a child with whom it would be most useful to “have regular meetings”. I asked why. Apparently, as a “mature child”, he can impart very articulately what’s “going on” in his class. I wondered for a nano-second if I was going quite mad and then couldn’t help myself but say: “That’s NOT HIS JOB; that’s YOUR job. My son’s responsibility at school is to be a decent kid, commit to learning things and to try his very hardest to do that. And YOUR responsibility is to teach him stuff – not ask him to be your undercover man to find out “what’s going down in his year”.

Of course, son is now back to “running on calm” at school – helped, not least, by having been elected to be Form President ... although there didn’t appear to be much competition to gain this role. (I think I refuse to believe that any vote-rigging occurred). Nevertheless, son feels somewhat vindicated and seems to want to give his classmates a forum to express how they’re feeling and a forum for HIM to ask them why they feel the need to disrupt classes.

And I am confused. And the thought of home-education crossed my mind to such an extent in the last week that I’ve actually made enquiries about it and asked for some advice. Some advice was for and some against. I’ve decided that I come down more on the side of the “against” camp than on the side of the “fors”. Someone said to me that school isn’t JUST about education – there are other, equally important factors – such as social interaction with people who one may like or one may whole-heartedly dislike but it’s necessary to learn the skills needed to cope with both. And, so, my son who, of course, is still my baby IS going to have to learn that it’s a wild world.

But no-one can stop me from worrying!