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Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Oh the Humanity! Nativity Plays

For those with children - it's that time of year again. Off you trot to the school hall, breathing in the curiously familiar smell of disinfectant and piss (or maybe that was just my old school) and sit down to watch The Nativity Play at 9.30am in all its comforting familiarity. The most popular boy gets to play Joseph and the cutest girl (or the one who has the scariest mother in the PTA)is Mary. But all this has changed. No longer do the most prized parts go to the future little Masters of the Universe while everyone else with their shy, spotty, incontinent offspring have to contend with being Third Shepherd on the Left. They all gather onstage, sometimes having to be prodded by an exhausted teacher. One of the shepherds cries loudly or wets himself. Then they all shout: "Behold a Star!" and point upwards in different directions like actors in bad sci-fi films pointing vaguely at a spaceship. I was too speccy to be Mary, and instead had to contend with being the Angel Gabriel. I clambered onstage wearing a cut-out sheet, minus my specs, shouted "I am sent from God" and fell off the stage. "Sent from the pub more like!" shouted a parent. I was only six!

Anyway, all that has changed, according to the Telegraph. It's the shy kids who get the best parts, not those annoying confident ones. One parent argues that the whole point of a nativity play is children weeing and crying and doing everything wrong, not a load of irritating acting prodigies. Quite right too.

My daughter's school, instead of a traditional nativity, put on a show called The Smallest Angel. It was fab! Loads of children forgetting their lines, singing Away in a Manger off key, and in one memorable moment, Mary dropped Baby Jesus and said: "Oh shit." But like all parents I only had eyes for The Girl who kept waving at me. "That's my mummy" she shrieked to the small boy next to her. "No - that's my mummy" said the boy. They kept this up throughout the entire show. She's such a little scene stealer . . . .

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


I was saddened to hear of the death of Oliver Postgate, creator of Ivor the Engine, The Clangers, and Bagpuss (which was voted the most popular children's television programme of all time)

You know you're getting old when you start on that 'things were better in them days' routine, but children's programmes are a bit like nursing and parenting; eulogised but there's no money in it. And like parenting, children's telly is done by committee nowadays. You have to run things by producers, senior producers, executives . . . everyone is so worried about offending someone. When I co-wrote a small radio programme for children, we weren't allowed to have a 'weeing sound' in case Myrtle from East Cheam rang in to complain that her little 'Mango and Edgar didn't tune in to hear the sound of urination!' (true) Our plaintive appeals of 'small children like naughty sounds like wees and farts fell on deaf ears. Oliver Postgate was part of the generation of children's programme makers who had a great idea and were allowed to get on with it, without scores of suits checking every five minutes. What hasn't changed is there's still bugger all money in it.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Blank Page

Last week I had lunch with a very nice producer who expressed an interest in a sitcom idea I've had flapping round my head like a hyperactive budgie. We talked about things like television format rights, and I nodded sagely, thinking Oh my God he wants to buy the format rights hmmm this noodle soup is good. It was the first time somebody has offered me MONEY for something I haven't yet written. He was even nice about my inability to write a proper treatment. "I've never known a writer who could write a really good treatment. Go and write a few scenes instead. That's them best way of showing the telly people you can write." Oh no - that means I have to actually do something. I would have floated home on air, only there was that tiny little gremlin nugget of bollocks I have to write something now. Something funny.
There was nothing else to do but research all those wonderful software programs like Final Draft, and Script Smart, that make your pathetic amateurish ramblings look professional. They do all the formatting for you. It's wonderful. I've just spent at least two hours going 'wow' like a madwoman as TITLE appears in the centre of the page, and SCENE 1 goes zing!!! with a quick stab of the return key. Now all I have to do is write.


Speaking of the black hole of hopeless despair, I watched Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe last week which was all about writing for telly. Really interesting and useful. I'd heartily recommend it - inspiring and practical. And while you're watching you don't have to be writing - even better! He talked to Russell T.Davies, Paul Abbot, Sam Bain, Jesse Armstrong and Graham Lineham. I was particularly heartened that Graham Lineham admitted to procrastinating like mad. Only he's Graham Lineham.

Back to the blank page. Quick cup of coffee first.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


The other day I climbed into bed wearing my sexy combo of Barbara Cartland pink leggings, and lilac fluffy, bobbled vest, plus non-matching socks and a dab of toothpaste on my chin (there was a zit on the way which The Girl had kindly pointed out: “Mummy you’ve got a spot. If you get lots of spots it means you’re ill.”) As I fell into bed, Husband looked up from his i-Thing which features a dancing Santa telling him it’s only 39 ‘sleeps’ till Christmas and said: “Jesus you’re hairy!”

I was very upset and clambered immediately onto my feminist high horse. Why should I wax and prune mid-winter . . . I wasn’t that hairy . . European women blah blah blah. Remember that fuss about Julia Roberts showing up to some film premiere with hairy pits? “I was just saying you’re hairy” Husband said with that infuriatingly smug/innocent tone of voice he’s got down to a tee. Bastard. (That’s the last time I’ll affect a sympathetic tone when he’s moaning about hair sprouting out of his nose like a free range welcome mat.)

The thing is, I mind. I don’t like being overtly hairy. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.

I go to the gym twice a week and lift weights so there is now a pleasing definition to my upper arms, and my stomach muscles can now do their job and support my back. So I’m in reasonably good shape. But it’s just not enhanced by er natural foliage. And now I can see it everywhere! How can my leg, underarm and lady garden hair be so dark? And stubbly? Why is there a large hair growing out of my belly button? Worst of all, why is there a (cue Disney cackle) witch hair spiralling out of a tiny mole on my cheek?

I took myself off to the local salon, got slathered in wax and had it all ripped off. Anyone who says it hurts worse than childbirth has clearly never had children. It stings a bit but I was reading a fascinating ten page interview with Geri Halliwell explaining ‘how fame no longer feeds her soul.’ And lo! I looked down at my now wonderfully smooth and gleaming legs, and thought, hmmm, do I feel like a passive tool of the patriarchy? Nope. Just nice and smooth. Then I went home and took that witch hair to task too. I smothered it in Extra Gentle Depilatory cream, only how gentle can something be if it burns off hair? The witch hair was gone when I wiped the stuff off, but in its place was an ugly red mark. (“Mummy you’ve got another spot!” said The Girl very helpfully).

Oh and the exercise? I was exhausted this morning, turned up late to my exercise class and sulkily flung my arms and legs about, ignoring my very fit teacher’s exhortations to “Get Those Knees Up!” What’s the point of that anyway if you’re like me and have to wear 200 layers of clothing just to keep warm? There was a cartoon in a paper yesterday of a woman going into a sports shop, with a pile of running shoes, dumbbells and a skipping rope. She says to the owner: “Can I exchange all this for a big baggy tee shirt?” I sympathise.