Monday, July 26, 2010

The Taming of the Shrew

In the country. Cat brings in a shrew. Mum and I coo, impressed. Cat kills shrew a bit. Shrew hides in a cushion. Cat pats cushion. Cushion squeaks. Cat grows tired of homemade muppetphone and slinks back out through cat flap.

Mum and I are left alone with potentially dead vermin in a corner. We prod it with a stick. It is alive.

"You've got to kill it," urges Mum, a bit Lady Macbeth.

Suddenly, horribly, armed with a mallet and a dustpan, I realise I've not killed anything bigger than a bug. The next minute isn't pleasant. It's probably easier to put something out of its misery if your eyes are open. Instead I make some dents in the skirtingboard.

I used to be okay at this - when I lived by the river, it was a daily chore to get rid of dead rats from the kitchen. It wasn't pleasant but I could do it. But this thing was alive. And quite squishy.

Eventually the tiny corpse is scooped up and thrown out into the night. The cat watches all of this from the garden. Curious and pitying.

"I hate that cat," announces my mother and goes to bed. I go and find the gin.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Saltash and the Devil

There's a curious story about a disqualified beauty queen - she claimed to be 22 and from Plymouth. She's actually 27 and from Saltash.

I'm trying to get my parents to move to Saltash. Since they may both lose their driving licences I figure they should live somewhere with shops. Rather than in Wuthering Heights.

Saltash is brilliant - it's on the other side of the Plymouth suspension bridge, so has all of the advantages of Plymouth without the disadvantage of being Plymouth. From my parents' point of view it's got views and charity shops. From my point of view, it's full of dim men as pale and lumpy as school custard who lurk meaningfully up and down the high street with tattoos so cheap they either do them at £stretcher or it's an evening class option alongside flower arranging.

I even find my parents a house. It is ridiculously cheap. My mother takes against it at once. "No views" she says. For a woman in imminent danger of losing her sight, this is ironic at best.

Nevertheless, we arrange to go round it with Laura from the estate agents. Her blonde hair has been straightened in a trouser press. My mother takes against the house and Laura with a hiss like an angry swan.

We walk through the door. The house is utterly amazing. Imagine a mini-stately home that's been shoddily converted - they've not even bothered ripping out the original features, simply covered them over with clapboard.

"You're in for a late 18th Century treat" says Laura, peeling back some plywood to show a hand-carved staircase. My mother looks at her with something like respect. "You're not stupid like an estate agent should be," says my mother. This for her, is high praise. Interestingly, Laura does not punch my mother to the ground. I'd love to know what training course she's been on.

We've spent much of the last ten days going round stately homes. This house is like that, but with an added air of treasure hunt. All the original features are intact. Ish. Oak floorboards hidden under orange nylon carpet, fireplaces nestling under artex. There is even a view. From the upstairs kitchen. It would be the best view of Plymouth Ho possible, were it not for a big tree next door. "Imagine if that tree died from poison," murmured my father wistfully (he used to work in pesticides in the 80s. The shed is full of bottles with names like "Stomp" and "Wipeout" which are now illegal even in Nigeria. His garden has never had slugs or birdsong).

Finally, Laura the Estate Agent does a little dance in the hall. Her high heels echo on the floorboards. "No one's checked, but sounds like a cellar" she says. We stand there, impressed. Secretly, all of us have wanted a cellar. I'd put Lego in it. Dad would fill it with useful bits of wood. Mum would clean it.

Afterwards, we sat glumly in the carpark watching trains chug over the suspension bridge. "Oh dear, that is the one," my mum sighed with quiet despair. The house is a bargain. But that's still £130k none of us have spare, and it's not like my parents can sell their house immediately. It's at moments like this I wish I'd gone into the City when I'd had the chance (it was either that or the BBC). You know, just for a couple of years.

At school we had a history teacher who'd done banking for five years. He'd made a mint and was now clearly teaching just for a laugh. It made him a brilliant teacher. How I remember the lesson where we reproduced John Wilkes's attempt to raise the devil in the school grounds by traipsing round the Rotondo reciting the Lord's Prayer Backwards. "But sir - do we walk backwards, recite the prayer backwards, or both?". "Let's work through the three options Gemma Pudsey and when you burst into flames, well, then we'll know, poppet."

See? He was brilliant. And also minted. It's at rare times like this, sat in a carpark in the rain, that I wish I was more like him. I'd be able to buy my parents a house on a whim. And I could raise the devil at dinner parties.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Views of the Country

So, I've been in the country for ten days. Basically, rehab with pasties.

There's something about the fresh country air (or maybe it's the boredom) that puts you early to bed with barely half a bottle of Lidl plonk inside you.

I've hardly missed smoking - except when watching Poirot with the parents, which is such an orgy of chainsmoking that the effect on me is like the brainwashing scene in Clockwork Orange ("must... not... rape... Eleanor... Bron...").

My reasons for country living are many. For a start, I miss the folks. Then there's a couple of projects to finish off, plus the bonus that being at home for two weeks costs nothing, meaning that I can finally cross "economy drive" off my to-do list (No wonder rural dwellers are addicted to drugs and online poker - there is nothing else to spend it on apart from houses. More of which later).

Finally, of course, my parents REALLY miss the cat. I'm now incidental to their plans. "Oh, are you staying?" my mothers asks as I get through the door. The cat eyes me, smugly, allowing my mother to scoop it up while cooing "Who's mummy's best love? Youare-youare-youare!"

My parents are fascinated about every aspect of the cat in a way that makes me pray it wasn't like this when I was a toddler. They'll comb through her litter tray like it's an episode of Time Team ("ooh, a solid. Isn't she a good girl?").

It's endearingly crackers... only, it turns out my parents are busy being very ill. Naturally, they don't really tell me (as a family, we just don't speak of these things), but their decision to bide out their twilight years on a hill in the middle of nowhere is now threatened by Dad's cataracts and Mum's glaucoma. Legally, neither of them is supposed to be driving.

It's at times like this that I realise what a disappointment I am to them. I'm sure somewhere my Dad has a list (he likes lists) that goes:
- can't play cricket
- didn't join the scouts
- not a lawyer
- not a mason
- gay
- failed five driving tests

The fact that I can't drive and they aren't allowed to hasn't stopped us from embarking on a merciless regime of Mr Magoo-style day trips "while we still can". In the last fortnight I've had my fill of stately homes, gardens, and small market towns. My mother's ecstatic "ooh look at that view" now seems oddly poignant, which doesn't help.

We'll get back home with a final crunch of gears and last scrape of car against fence in the late afternoon. Hardly has the rear wheel bumped to a halt against the garage wall than my mother will rush indoors. Just as I have a list of failures, my mother has a list of successes. For the cat. It goes:
- it poos
- it sleeps
- it eats
- it purrs
- it snores

Clearly, after me, she set the bar very low indeed.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I accidentally ordered something from Amazon without checking whether or not it would be sent out by HDNL. Bad! Wrong! Never again!

As soon as you realise you're under HDNL house arrest it's like a glimpse into a Machine Stops future where all of humanity spends its entire time sealed into pods waiting for deliveries.

Sudden thought: It's a mercy that Gentlemen's Ordering Services don't use HDNL isn't it? Can you imagine stumbling home to find a note saying "We tried to deliver ChickenLols84 but you were out"? Or worse, finding it fuming sullenly in next door's kitchen?

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Comedian

The Comedian turns up on my doorstep just as my cold is finally going.
"Hello," he says.
"It's been a year," I say.
"There's never been anyone else," he says.
We both laugh.

The Comedian is fun. He's from the north, but studying theatre in Brighton. He's a stand-up comic, is about eight foot tall, and just seems to potter around amiably. His Dad lives somewhere in London, so every now and then he drops by.

He has a student flatshare in Brighton which has an internal stalker. "It was creepy originally, but now it's kind of reassuring. You know - if I ever fall over in the bath, I know there'll be someone on the other side of the door to call the ambulance. And, if I ever forget my keys, I know he'll be sat in the kichen in the dark, just waiting."

I once dated someone at uni who had a stalker. It was his ex, Piers (it was Oxford, so everyone had an ex called Piers). I remember after a house party. Mark had taken a lot of drugs, so we cleaned the flat until 5am, and then crawled into bed.

"Can you... smell cigar smoke?" I asked.

"Oh," said Mark.

Sat in a chair at the end of the bed was Mark's ex. Watching us. While smoking a cigar. "Please, don't mind me boys," said Piers, "Just carry on." PUFF.

It's creepy realising that stuff like this feels like it was just the other summer, but actually happened two decades ago. Almost before the Comedian was born. That's not funny.

Monday, July 05, 2010


Sometimes you find yourself in a dark room doing something really regrettable and feeling ashamed. Yesterday, I went to see the new Katherine Heigl film.

I was bored and hadn't left the house for a week and through all the snot and confusion the impulsive desire to see Killers struck me. "Well, how bad can it be? And is Katherine Heigl really that awful an actress? I mean, she was fun in Roswell..."

Killers is a terrible film. It's not all Katherine Heigl's fault, but it's quite hard to see past her. She plays a "kooky" darling who accidentally marries a retired hitman. "Hilarity" ensues. One day, all their friends are trying to kill them and they must run for their lives. Only....

Heigl's character drops a momentous hissy fit. Before she runs for her life she demands an explanation, and then that they go shopping. All earlier pretence of being kooky and adorable has gone and she spends the rest of the film shrieking and squawking and whining.

The worst thing about this is that Heigl is frighteningly good at angry. You watch her being angry on screen and suddenly all those stories about her on-set behaviour on Grey's Anatomy go bing! My god, you think, that must have been what it was really like. When Heigl does angry acting, it's like she lets her guard down and her true self out, and you get to see what her agent, stylist, PA and dog-walker have to put up with. It's truly frightening.

The only other person like her for chillingly convincing angry-acting is Anna Torv who plays Special Agent Pramface in Fringe.

There's a famous description of the original Take That as four boys dancing round a polar bear, and Fringe is essentially three actors treading carefully round a block of ice. Torv is a nuclear winter of an actress. Like Heigl the only emotion Anna Torv can convey convincingly is fury. The difference between the two of them, though, is that Anna Torv doesn't even attempt the others. There's a brilliant scene in the latest series where they stick her on a roller coaster and her hair moves... but nothing else.

Anyway, back to Killers and Katherine Heigl. It's not entirely her fault. The film is fairly atrociously written. People keep saying unconvincingly smutty things like "Have you been downloading those internet pornos again?" in a way that makes you wonder if someone went "Let's give it a crude Seth Rogen kind of style" and everyone nodded but no-one had a clue what it meant. Then there's the stunning reveal that they've been living surrounded by professional assassins for three years because... because... well, these things just happen in movies.

I am not blaming Ashton Kutcher for any of this mess. Even though the film was his idea. My reason for excusing him is that he very priddy. Tom Selleck is also in this film. He wears a moustache.

Saturday, July 03, 2010


That was a waste of a sunny week. Thanks cold.

On the other hand it is true - if you don't eat for four days you do lose weight. Who knew? Also, since when is hiccuping for 18 hours part of a cold? I mean, really?

And now, why does everything taste of salad cream? Even tea?

In other news this week, I found an ex on Facebook. A devastastingly handsome ex. Who's now gone... bald and speccy in a very "Grim Up North London" way. Sad week :(