Another year older…

I had a birthday.  (There are fabulous photographs here: the Sekrit Password is Bespin)

There are two things that have annoyed me about birthdays for the past, what, forty years or so.  First of all, for some reason I have always wanted to be given a Surprise Party, in the cheesy way they have on American tv shows, but having no Significant Other to organise one for me, it’s never happened.  But it’s a no-win situation: once you’ve got the thought in your head you are always going to be disappointed.  Every year I do something for my birthday, but every year however brilliant it is it fails to live up to the platonic ideal of the surprise party in my head, so it’s never quite enough.  And you just know that, if I finally do walk into a room and find everyone I love wearing party hats and yelling “surprise!” there will still be a part of me grumbling “well finally!  I’ve only been hinting for half a bleedin’ century!”  The things we do to ourselves!

No, I’m not asking you to *organise* a surprise party for me, I’m just trying to explain what’s going on in my head every year when it comes to my birthday.  I’m putting it out here now, officially, that I have accepted I will Never, Ever Have a Surprise Party and I’m putting it on the list next to Giving Notes to Keanu Reeves on His Hamlet and Having Lunch With Benedict Cumberbatch.  You know, the It’ll Never Happen list.  I’m OK with it, really.  I had a great time this year, and I really did have (just about) everyone I love in one room, and I’m letting it go.

But the second thing about birthdays is that I had this bloody therapy thing back in the day, when I was working at HMRC.  They sent me off for some individually tailored development sessions with a remarkably groovy advice/counselling/NLP service that included all sorts of useful 360 degree feedback, career planning and goal-setting stuff.  Trust me, it was excellent.


One of the exercises was imagining your retirement party or your 60th birthday party and looking back on your life.  What would it be like, how would you feel about it…. and what did you have to do in the here and now to make the exciting possibilities you had envisaged actually come about.

And here I am.  I had a retirement party when I left HMRC.  And now I’ve had a 60th birthday party.  And, you know, there were speeches.  Kind friends and relatives looked back on my life with me and drew me a picture of it that made me go, yes, I think you’re right: it wasn’t so bad after all.  I can be a grown up, after all.  Thank you.

There was no-one there from the world of science fiction.  No-one.  And now I see that’s the part of my life I have let go, the plate I stopped trying to spin.

No, I have no conclusions to draw from this.  I just notice it, and move on.



The Abominable Bride

OK here’s my personal fantasy about the making of the Abominable Bride. Because you must have noticed, there was no Vinette Robinson (Sally Donovan, Lestrade’s sergeant).  Why not?  Did the writers miss Sally out because there were no black people in the nineteenth century? {insert eye roll here}

No: my theory is that the part of Watson’s random inefficient servant girl Jane was originally written for Sally.  And then Vinette Robinson (in my head anyway) read the script and went “you want me to be a maid? Who isn’t even any good?? Because she’s too busy fangirling S/W??? And then she puts on a Klan hood as part of the Evil Female Conspiracy???” And then in my head Vinette said many, many blunt anglo saxon words to Messrs Moffat and co and departed into the night. Possibly twirling a cape.

As I said, personal fantasy. (OMG I’ve committed RPF!)

If I still lived in London…

…I’d go to Harrods and walk around the food hall, and buy some quince jelly and manchego cheese and maybe some of their hand made ravioli with walnuts.  And I’d call in at Konditor and Cook for some lemon chiffon cake, light as air, and a box of the little fondant fancies that they call magic cakes.  Maybe pick up a chocolate croissant for tomorrow’s breakfast – but who can choose between the chocolate and the almond?  And then the brownies and oh, the walnut bread rolls!  I’d fill a freezer drawer with them, and have them with the manchego and the quince.  And then I’d go to Fortnums, for the milk chocolate coffee creams and perhaps a tiny, perfect, box of marron glace.

No, I don’t miss living in London.  That much.  But, if you wanted to send food parcels…

Good neighbours

Are you afraid of flying?  Spiders?  Clowns?  Most of us are afraid of something or other.  Let’s say spiders, like Ron in Harry Potter.  So if you were afraid of spiders, would you be happy to find Aragog the spider in your living room if someone said helpfully that “he won’t hurt you”?  Of course not: whether or not he’ll hurt you isn’t the point.  You aren’t afraid that a spider might hurt you, you’re afraid of spiders.

So let me tell you about the family who live up my road.  I don’t know them – they’re a fair bit further up my road than leads to casual conversation.  But since my operation I’ve been walking up and down the road a fair bit, because it’s half a mile to the bench and a mile to the Garden Centre, so I often get in my daily steps by walking either to the bench or to the garden centre and back.

The other day I walked past the house, and the kids were doing something or other in the front garden with their dad.  And their big goofy labrador was sitting just inside the gate watching the world go by, and the gate wasn’t shut.

Now I’m not phobic about dogs, but I’ve never had one and I’m not terrifically comfortable around them.  And I had abdominal surgery and I am (and I think legitimately) terrified of a big friendly dog jumping up and putting its weight on my scars.  So when big goofy dog saw me coming and wanted to make friends (and he was out of the minute gap between the gate and the fence in a flash) I froze.  He lolloped up to me… and the kids and dad all yelled “No Igor!” (or possibly Ivor) and the dad was out of the gate almost as fast as Igor/Ivor, collared him and firmly escorted him back inside the fence.  And shut the gate.  And said sorry.

See, that’s what you do if your dog is friendly to someone you don’t know.  You don’t let him have his moment and say “he won’t hurt you”.  Because it’s not up to you to judge what constitutes “hurt” for someone else.  You don’t know if the person is just a bit nervous around strange dogs, or has just had abdominal surgery, or feels about dogs like Ron Weasley did about Aragog.  That’s not within your control, or your responsibility.  Whereas your dog, is.  Thank you, thoughtful neighbours, and responsible pet owners everywhere.

The problem with fennel

Yes, I have a problem with fennel.  Every since we saw Star Wars in 1977 and wondered what Aunt Beru was cooking for breakfast, fennel has been one of those words which can make me laugh inappropriately.

(It’s also a vegetable that tastes like aniseed, and who wants a vegetable that tastes like aniseed?  I don’t even like aniseed balls much, and I have to be really drunk to start wanting absinthe or pernod.  And as for slicing it up and eating it raw in salads, are you insane???)

I forgot bloody Shakespeare, didn’t I?  There were four of us at #Hamletbatch last week, and I happened to be sitting next to my Old Friend From 1977, the person who had identified Beru’s Breakfast in the first place.

So if you were sitting behind us last week, and wondering why the two middle aged ladies started spluttering hysterically while poor old Ophelia was going off her head, well, blame Shakespeare…

…and Aunt Beru.

There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue
for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it
herb-grace o’ Sundays: O you must wear your rue with
a difference…

So don’t talk to me about fennel.  Seriously.


This is not a review.  Because we went to see #Hamletbatch last Tuesday, when it was still in preview, and not tonight when it’s the press night. Although we still paid £85 a head and aren’t preview tickets usually, you know, cheap?

But anyway, this is not a review; just a few impressions.  And my first impression was the size of the Barbican stage.  I mean, it is big.  Build a castle banqueting hall and still have room for a grand staircase big.  A banqueting hall with room for a functioning antechamber off it big.  And then another room beyond that.  A staircase with a functional landing, with doors leading to other rooms or at least which are functioning entrances through which actors can come and go, big.  I mean, it’s a stage, but it’s big.

And of course this is not a review, but I couldn’t help noticing that everyone arrived and left at a rather athletic jog, because with a stage that size and a set that elaborate, you could hardly saunter thoughtfully off after a soliloquy without the audience expecting the characters in the next scene to go “Yo, Hamlet, how’s it hanging?” or the Elizabethan equivalent.

This isn’t a review, because we didn’t see the finalised production, so I can’t tell you whether “to be or not to be” finished up at the start of the play or whether it wandered back to its rightful place, but I can say that when we saw it, the opening scene was the wedding banquet.  Which, if I had been reviewing it, I’d have said was rather good: the banquet table set out with those grotesque animal relics posh people seem to collect.  Horns and antlers and an atmosphere of decay and decadence, like the production design we saw on the teaser posters.  And, if I were going to review the production, which of course I’m not, I’d say that the way Hamletbatch defied gravity and leapt up onto the table was quite… fetching <fans self>

No, this is not a review, but I have to go back to that set.  I mean, it’s BIG, I think we’ve established that.  Big enough for a banqueting table and a grand piano, big enough to bring in a toy fort big enough for an actor to play climbing up and down stairs inside it.  But once you’ve built it, it’s just there. So when you’re wandering around on the landing, doing the scene that usually takes place on the battlements, some members of your audience are going to think, well, why doesn’t he just go back to bed?  And why are there guards pacing around on the landing anyway?  And in the second half, when the same hall is ankle deep in what looks like coal and coke but which must surely have been largely foam rubber or else they must go through a lot of barefoot actresses, I kept thinking why has no-one noticed they’ve emptied a coal lorry into the living room???

But that’s just me, and this isn’t a review, so let’s move on.  I thoroughly recommend the gin and tonic ice cream.  But don’t have an actual gin and tonic, because (especially if you’re in the really good seats) there’s a hundred stairs between you and the ladies’ loos in the interval, even if you’ll move very slowly down some of them because that’s how far the bloody queue extends.

If this had been a review I might have mentioned the after-show ambience. Because the four of us decided that, as our collective ages added up to more than 200, we probably weren’t going to to and queue at the stage door for an autograph.  So we bought four drinks and found a table and sat down…

…only to find that the bar had almost instantly put its shutters down, and that, before the ice in my G&T had even started to melt, we found ourselves entirely alone in the cavernous wastes of an empty Barbican foyer.

We appeared at that point to be starring in a Pinter play as the only other life evident in the Barbican was the mouse truffling around the bins over to our left.  And then, after a Pinteresque pause, a solitary homeless man shuffled backstage right to front stage left trundling his possessions with him.  At which point we decided we didn’t want to be locked in for the night and left.

The queue for the £10 tickets for the following night were already camped out in their sleeping bags.  Who needs reviews?


So I’m watching Dalek, the Dr Who episode where Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor comes face to face with the last remaining dalek imprisoned in a basement by a mad billionaire collector.  And, as daleks do, it escapes and a lot of redshirts get killed trying to stop it with bullets.

I mean, you’ve just watched all your colleagues get zapped and all their bullets bounce off it, but still you carry on firing?  There’s a bullshit line from the Doctor about the dalek being protected by a force field and if they concentrate their power they *might* get through, but really?  Does no-one think laterally?

What would you do if faced by a dalek?

Chuck a blanket or your coat or something over its eyestalk?

Drop a five ton weight on top of it?

Pump concrete into the room where it is till it’s encased?

Good grief, arm all your soldiers with cans of silly string and spray it till it disappears under a giant multi-coloured ball of string …

But don’t just keep firing bullets at it when you can see that it doesn’t work, OK?  Feel free to leave further suggestions in comments.


You might have noticed I haven’t been around on this blog for a while.  I had cancer, basically.

In February I was feeling depressed and a fellow PhD student suggested I get a sick note to take the pressure of a university deadline off me.  So I went to my doctors and explained I was depressed and they, bless their hearts, wrote me the sick note but also said they wanted to do some tests to rule out a couple of things.  So we ruled out ovarian cancer and … then we found endometrial cancer.

It was a Grade III (which means it was the tricksy kind of bugger that’ll kill you) but, after I went and had a hysterectomy, turned out to have been at Stage 1a, which means it’s wholly contained within the womb (and the womb is an organ they can take out and throw away so #fuckcancer to you, endometrium!) and hadn’t yet spread to the blood vessels.

So my fellow student and my GP between them more than likely saved my life, or at least made the difference between a 5% survival rate at five years (for a Grade III Stage 4) and a 95% survival rate at five years, which is what you get if you’re Grade III Stage 1a.

I have to go back every three months to be checked, and at the moment I’m getting over what turned out to be major abdominal surgery – they were originally hoping to do a robot assisted piece of Living In The Future wizardry but it turned out I had to have the Old Style zip-fastener-up-the-midriff version – but I’m remarkably OK.  And remarkably grateful still to be here at all.

Repeat after me.  #fuckcancer.  And, god bless the NHS.

Kobayashi Maru

The loathsome bear-baiting spectacle that is Prime Minister’s Question Time was on again today.  I don’t get it.  It’s a Kobayashi Maru for Ed Miliband.  He can’t win: if he scores a point off David Cameron he looks as sneering and supercilious as Cameron, and if he doesn’t, he just looks weak.  Why doesn’t he pull the plug and refuse to play?

I don’t mean fail to turn up (although that in itself would make a helluva story) but change the game.  Get his troops together, and ambush the tories by behaving like…

… well, like grown ups.  Like thinking human beings.  Like statesmen and women.  Be the change you want to see and actually ask sensible questions, answer points that are raised, debate like you mean it.  And meanwhile refrain (and get your supporters to refrain) from making braying noises like a meeting of the Drones Club.

The tories would walk all over him?  Well they’re walking all over him now.  He seriously needs some media training.  Hell, he seriously needs to watch a box set of the West Wing.  But people are tired of the stupid game: get into its programming and change the rules.  Live long and prosper!

Ten years ago today…

I just found my 2005 diary.  It was a gorgeous page-a-day A5 Moleskine (sigh.  Stationery fetishists-R-us) and I filled it in for exactly three days!

Mind you, they weren’t bad days.  I was living in a flat in Covent Garden at the time, and the Eurostar went from Waterloo in those days.  So I got up, walked around the corner, got on a train, and on New Year’s Day I went to Paris!

For lunch!

To meet up with techgrrl and some of her friends, because she was over from the States and the closest she was getting to me was Paris.

It seems like a hundred years ago.

The next day I apparently pottered about quietly at home and it felt like being on sabbatical again – I must have just gone back to work after my year off, when I went to Clarion and then spent 18 months in my little cottage in Wales, allegedly writing a novel.

The only other day I filled in was in spring, when I was in Barcelona for the weekend with Sandra Kirkham. I record that I had a few moments to myself as she was in the hotel gym…. and then my pen ran out and there was nothing more.

Those were the days, my friends.