As a child I was always very reluctant to allow things to come to an end. Whether it be a game, a gathering or a galaxy counter. I was often the first to arrive at a party (that’s a party – not a “play-date”) and invariably, the last to leave. I was the one left behind, aimlessly swinging my racket on the tennis court when everyone else had gone home for their tea. I was the one still chatting and giggling to the friend I had over to stay the night (that’s “having a friend over to stay the night” – not a “sleepover” ) when they had long been asleep.
Anyone who has ever been to a games evening at my house will know that little has changed. Although I no longer sob when guests call a taxi or attempt to get their coats – I stopped doing that once I turned forty – there is still a remaining element of not wanting the fun to end.
I think that’s why I love September. September is like the “it’s not all over” month of relief and optimism. It’s the month when just as everyone is commenting that “it’s turned a bit chilly”, the sun will burst out from behind the clouds and give us three consecutive days of scorching heat. It’s the month when we used to drag ourselves back to school after a long lazy summer, but lo: in short sleeved shirts and with light enough to still go out to play after tea. It’s the month that can frighten us to death with a dramatic, crashing thunderstorm that will provide a drenching downpour of rain warm enough to dance naked under.
That’s what we do in September. We continue to enjoy gentle games of tennis stretching from the warm afternoon into the long evening. We go ahead with our plans to dig all day at the allotment and round it off with a G&T and a few sausages on the barby. We camp – with hope. We go surfing, we fly kites, we light fires, we sit out to enjoy the stars. We dance for hours, naked in the rain.
When I say “we”, well, it was just me. And when I say “for hours”, it was just a few moments really. My next door neighbour’s son has an air rifle so I can’t be too careful.
The point is, I hate to be told the summer is over and September has a beautiful knack of saying it isn’t so. Summer isn’t over just because there’s a chill in the air. Summer isn’t over just because the schools have gone back. Summer isn’t over just because it’s pissing down. In the words of the awesome Deacon Blue…”You know the danger in believing that the summer’s gone…” I don’t actually know the danger but the words resonated with me so deeply that I had them airbrushed onto a vest top on Daytona Beach in 1989.
In America they have labor day. (That’s labor day – not labour day) Labor day falls on the first Monday in September and traditionally marks the end of the summer. That’s it. Done and dusted. Finished. No more barbeques. No more picnics. No more outdoor barn dances with grandpa on the fiddle in a white picket fenced garden with bunting and cake decorating competitions and homemade lemonade. No more. That’s it. Stop it now.
Hell, it’s so ‘not summer anymore’ that you can’t even wear white clothes after labor day. It’s against US law. You’ll be featured in the National Enquirer as a major fashion faux pas. I lived in New York for a while and witnessed the strict adherence to this rule aghast with disappointment and indignation. Not only were they depriving themselves of some of the best days of summer lovin’, but they were denying me them too.
As my role in New York at the time was as a struggling, angst-ridden singer/songwriter playing the bars on Bleaker Street, I wrote about it thus:
Here we are, it’s the first of September
So they say, summer is over.
I call my brother. We laugh together and he says:
“What if it’s really nice weather?”
Well i just might put on my white dress today
I would like things to be the way they were yesterday
Just that it rained
On labor day
doesn’t mean to say
summer is over…
Ah, it still makes me chuckle to think that I might wear a white dress after labor day. It makes me laugh to think that I might wear a white dress after the age of three to be fair.
This year, British Summertime ends on October 26th. Now that’s a bit more like it. That makes sense. It’s getting all fresh and crisp and the trees are turning and the air smells of woodsmoke and yes, we’re ready for Autumn.
Except my mum. She hates it when the clocks go back. “It’s dark when I get up and dark when I go to bed.” Rather than suggest she goes and lives in the land of the midnight sun, I call her as the clocks change to cheer her up with enthusiastic suggestions of all the delights winter brings us. Crisp, bright, clear days; warm, snuggly evenings; Jack Frost nipping at your nose. By February she’s usually buggered off to Southern Spain with Dad in the motorhome.
But it’s in my diary to call her anyway. And by then I too shall be ready to accept the new season. It’ll be easier for me this year. I’ll be calling from the private seclusion and relaxation of the poolside of my apartment in the avocado, mango and bamboo groves of the Andalucian Mountains. I’ll be on my summer holiday.
So, here we are. The first night of my tour. I’ve packed my outfit. I’ve packed my guitar (new strings), my microphone and a roll of gaffa tape. Old habits die hard.
Since I was 24 I’ve been periodically packing to go on tour. I’ve tour managed, company managed and stage managed; I’ve drawn up lighting plans and sewn drapes; I’ve positioned a piano and stuck marker tape onto just about every major stage in the UK. I even got to shake a maraca or two backstage.
I could write a book on the exploits I have got up to on tour with the likes of Fascinating Aida, Rhona Cameron, Sue Perkins, Punt and Dennis, Clare Summerskill, The Singalonga Sound Of Music and a random rock band from Reading. Maybe one day I will.
But right now, I am calling myself a taxi, throwing my guitar on my shoulder and heading out for the first night of my first tour as an actual performer.
I think I may actually have actual butterflies….
So, Monday night is the new Saturday night and therefore Sunday is the new Friday. Or at least, it was this week. After a stonking night last night at the divine new ArtHouse in Crouch End which has finally opened with it’s funky upcycled stools, groovy hanging lights, highly fashionable shiny tiling and farrow and ball coloured walls. (not capital F or B)
With a proper painted stage framed with theatrical blacks; a full lighting rig and a working microphone it was a delight to perform to the wonderful SOLD OUT auditorium with it’s gorgeous old original shabby chic cinema seating occupied by the bottoms of delightfully enthusiastic and energetic comedy goers (and one or two very cool rock stars) all totally up for a top night out full of laughs, revelations, some possible over-sharing and a slab or two of delicious rhubarb cake. What’s not to love?
Nice work Tom Barrie (heart you); magnificently headlined by the irresistibly lovable Patrick Monahan who was joined on stage (and trust me, with those new fire regulation doors getting on stage was no mean feat) by the hilarious Tom Price and clever, sophisticated and slightly surreal character comedy from the bold and brassy Shirley and Shirley. Bloody brilliant.
Course, Sunday is all about the roastie. But at the Clissold Arms in Muswell Hill (see, I’m possibly overjoyed at these two new comedy nights not just because they are brilliant and on customarily un-busy nights of the week but because they are both walking distance from my house…) the comedy comes with a roast dinner for a tenner!!! Yes, a huge great plate of Sunday Roast before you take your seat in a bamboo encased tiki room; festooned with fairy lights; furnished with statuettes and random art from no century in particular and carpeted with astro turf.
Now the comedy night at the Clissold did something quite brave and daring this week. They put on an all male bill. Controversial. Would they all talk about their penises and masturbating? No. Very much not. They talked about being dads, and sharing baths, and going ski-ing. And they were bloody hilarious. After I’d finished harrumphing about the lack of a female comic on the bill I realised that my cheeks were aching from laughter.
It’s a winning night, MC’d by Mark Maier and we were lucky enough to share the evening in the company of Paul Tonkinson, Alan Francis and Luke Toulson. Favourites of mine and actually real boys. Blimey. What’s happening to me?
And it’s only Tuesday.
Of course on finally stammering out the words to my mum that I thought I might be “a bit like Maxine” I thought my message was clear. Maxine had come out as a lesbian to the whole family and was openly in a relationship with another woman.
My mum’s reaction though, was: “oh don’t be so silly.”
After all that? After weeks, months of planning when and how I was going to tell her, my mum’s sole retort is “don’t be so silly”?? After countless weekends of returning to my new girlfriend with my tail between my legs and the admission that I hadn’t come out, again. That there just hadn’t been the right moment. That she wouldn’t be coming to Sunday lunch anytime soon. That was all the riposte I got? “Oh, don’t be so silly.”?
Then I realised why.
Maxine was also a heroin addict.
I wouldn’t usually mention it. It’s long time ago now. Ten years ago to be exact. I know this because I just spent the day with Maxine, with her lovely girlfriend and with my auntie, celebrating the anniversary of the day that Maxine became sober. The day she became clean. The day, in her words, she “chose freedom and chose life.” Ten years ago. I was living in Camden at the time and we joked about the fact that last time we spent time together in London is when I visited her in prison.
“Yeah, and you didn’t even bring me any drugs,” she complained. I wasn’t even allowed to give her a pen or the mix tape I’d prepared for her incase I’d secreted some narcotic or other inside. Not a great time. But ten years later and here she was. Looking healthy and glowing and happier than ever. When I asked her what her secret was she told me that she finally decided to accept herself and love herself and that meant she didn’t need the drugs any more. She didn’t need to be someone else. She could just be herself.
Like I said. I wouldn’t usually mention it. It’s private. But I know Maxine won’t mind because she is a survivor. And because she’s posted it on facebook. Anyway, it also gives me the chance to mention how proud I am of her. What an inspiration she is. A brave, beautiful, strong and passionate woman with a soft, kind heart and a nerve of steel.
And while I joke and make futile attempts to popularise the euphemism “a bit like Maxine” to suggest that someone may be a lesbian, I would be proud and delighted to be, to any degree and under any classification, just a teeny “bit like Maxine”.
Growing up I always suspected my youngest cousin to be…to be….well, to be, er…you know…”on the other bus”. “Batting for the other team”. Or as a favourite comedienne of mine says, “she licks t’other side of t’stamp”. You know who you are Julie Jepson. But you’re right, it is a stupid expression because stamps do come already sticky these days.
Fact is. there isn’t really a good euphemism for someone being a lesbian. Not that I know of. So, I’ve decided to create my own, fabulous, new saying – based on my own coming out story. Like I said, I had always suspected my cousin, Maxine was probably a lesbian. She was (and still is) a couple of years younger than me so when she came to visit she was frequently the unfortunate recipient of my expeditiously outgrown hand-me-downs. These were usually garments that my older brother had already inhabited before handing them down to me so were often worn and torn at the bum and knees; with ripped belt loops and missing buttons; scuffed trainers with odd laces, and jumpers with patches on the elbows. That was all fine though. Maxine and I both had an unusually keen fancy for boy’s clothes. And some items had been kicking around so long they were enjoying a return to fashion. It was all fine.
Until the day I finally outgrew my pink ballet cardigan. Oh the joy I felt at never having to wrap it’s pink satin ribbons around my rapidly expanding waist ever again. Oh how elated I was to see it folded amongst the beige, threadbare, flared cords and the patterned wing-collared shirts on the pile of clothes reserved for my cousins. It was a sight that bordered on consolation for the sad fact that I had also outgrown the petrol blue and white striped adidas trainers that had been pinching my toes all summer.
As I punched the air with my chubby little fist at the removal of the one remaining item of pink clothing from my wardrobe, a five year old Maxine stood immobilised; her face frozen into an expression that exclaimed “When the fuck am I ever going to have the inclination to wear that?”
See. Lesbian. I knew it.
Having detected it at such an early age the similarities in our sexuality remained unacknowledged until well into our teens. As our older cousins got engaged and married, Maxine and I either attended such family affairs solo or accompanied by a ‘friend’ in sensible shoes and a lumberjack shirt.
Once I was absolutely sure that Maxine was indeed “licking t’other side of t’stamp” (It was actually something else I caught her licking in the toilets of a gay bar under the promenade in Brighton, but we don’t talk about that) I realised that as the older cousin I had a mission to perform. It was up to me to pave the way. There was a subject that demanded broaching and I was the elder. I had to be a role model. The pioneer of the family. I had a responsibility. A duty. An accountability. It was up to me to act.
So I waited for Maxine to come out and then when the family didn’t disown her I did the same. Well, within a decade anyway.
I was folding laundry with my mum and I had decided this was the perfect moment.
“Er, I think….I think…er, I think I might be…” Oh no. I’d started. I’d got this far but there wasn’t a ‘nice’ way to say it. I couldn’t use the word lesbian in front of my mum. Or say the word ‘gay’. What could I say? How could I say it?
“You might be what, love?” mum asked as she balled a pair of socks.
“I think I might be…a bit like Maxine.”
I can remember as a child singing the song “English Country Garden” with the altered lyrics of “What do you do when you need to do a poo? In an English Country Garden”. I recall that you “pull down your pants and suffocate the ants…” but I don’t think I realised at the time just quite what a dilemma this might actually turn out to be later in life.
As now, here I was, the english country garden being my allotment and I did in fact, very much need a poo. I thought if I just carried on digging and planting and keeping myself busy it would ‘go back up’, but then I made the mistake of joining my allotment partner, Becky, for a cup of (freshly picked) spearmint tea.
We were laughing about the fact that we had stayed up at the allotment quite late the night before with some other friends and at the end of a hard day of cultivation we had enjoyed a few G and T’s. As we often do, we took it to the extremes, imagining that we would get a reputation on the allotments as the ‘party plot.’ We giggled, imagining the scenarios – staggering drunk around the sheds; trampling over everyone else’s prized produce; wandering into a random green house and picking the plants. Oh how we laughed.
“Imagine…imagine, like, the other allotment owners always coming in and finding us face down in a different plot each weekend…”
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…
“Imagine…imagine, we keep leaving the gates open and all the cats and dogs from the neighbourhood come in. And all the local tramps…”
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…
“Imagine…imagine, one of us takes an actual human dump on someone’s plot.”
An actual human dump. Yes.
What to do? I stood up.
“I just need a wee. Don’t come into the shed for a minute.”
This would be fine. I could do this. I’ve had to do it a thousand times. Well, twenty six times. Camping, road trips, festivals, pic-nics and that rather unfortunate incident when I wandered into the woods and thought I was alone only to be suddenly descended upon by a troupe of stalking birdwatchers.
This would be easy. I had a bucket. I filled it with steaming hot water from my flask. Then I filled it with, well, you know. Done. Simple. But now what? What to do with my actual human dump?
Well, we’re on an allotment, surrounded by organic matter. Surely just ‘dig it in’? There’s a huge tub of mud next to the shed. We don’t know what it is. Compost? Mulch? Good, helpful stuff or just wet mud? Dunno. But this was the perfect place for the burial. I just had to get out there. Carrying a bucket full of poo. I stepped out of the shed. Becky was chatting to the guy on the next plot. I’ll call him Dennis because it will make it easier to tell the story. And because it’s his name.
“Yeah, well. Come and have a look,” I heard Becky say. I swung on my heel and surreptitiously placed the bucket behind the shed door with a planter over the top of it.
“Nah, it’s no good really.” I heard Dennis proclaim. “It’s just wood chip that’s rotted down. Shove a vine in there – a vine’ll grow in anything.” Then he dug his bare hands into the wet mud where mere moments ago I was about to dispose of my poo and broke it down with his bare fingers. Pausing to hold some up to his nose before declaring it unusable. Timing, Dennis. Luck and timing.
I had escaped a very messy – literally – situation. But my poo still sat in the bucket. As Becky and Dennis moved around the allotment. Her asking more questions, him giving more advice, I followed behind, displacing the bucket until I could finally find somewhere to bury it.
Offering to demonstrate how to build a cane teepee for our beans to grow up, Dennis bent down to pick up some bamboo, his face literally centimetres away from the bucket, his cane almost catching it and toppling it over until I could bear it no more.
“Mind that bucket Dennis,” I jumped to grab it. “There’s erm, there’s some liquid in there…” Back round behind the shed. But if I left the bucket there it would be obvious. So I just put it right in the middle of our seating area. No one would suspect then. Right in between us as we discussed pea nets and the value of a petrol strimmer.
It was a good ten minutes before Dennis finally returned to his own plot and I was able to dispose of the ‘material’. I shant reveal where it found it’s final resting place, incase anyone ever visits me at my allotment. Or incase someone on the committee reads this. But as I said, it’s all organic matter. Good for the soil. Taken care of.
I rinsed out the bucket and carried on with my digging. Lighter. Relieved. Satisfied. Becky stepped out of the shed.
“Woah,” she exclaimed. “It stinks in there. Did you take a dump?”
“Me?” I replied innocently, “course not. Dennis must have farted.”
This time of year is all about life innit? New life, the creation of life, germination. It’s a time for seeds to be planted and lambs to be born. It’s a time for buds to shrug off the green sheaths that have housed them and burst forth with colour; it’s a time for chicks to batter their little beaks against the inside of their shell until they see the light of day; it’s when Jesus woke up after his nasty ordeal.
This Easter I’m even more aware of it all – as the proud new owner of an allotment and the unsuspecting new owner of a two year old cat called Kajagoogoo. The allotment has always been a dream of mine. The cat just appeared one weekend. I’m a dog person me, but you can’t turn an animal away can you? And you can’t seem to rename one either, no matter how hard you try. It’s a girl cat but surely ‘Limahl’ would have been preferable to Kajagoogoo whilst retaining the connection which I assume is something to do with the fact that she’s quite a timid little cat – ergo, “Too shy shy, hush hush, eye to eye.” Of course I don’t often use her full name. Except yesterday morning when I was greeted by an elephant sized poo in the middle of the dining room floor. Where did it all come from? At first I wondered if it was a little Easter prank. A little chocolate treat. Then I breathed in.
She only seems to do it when we are in the house alone. In other words when I’m the only mug around to scoop it up with my t shirt pulled over my nose and carry it at arms length out to the garden, screwing my nose up and muttering how disgusting it is and how if she was my cat she would never do that. She’s not my cat though. I don’t own a pet (except for the imaginary dog that comes everywhere with me.) No, I don’t own a pet and yet this Easter weekend I seem to be responsible for the little lives of two cats and two goldfish. It’s actually quite satisfying. I feel all nurturing and maternal. Not so much for the goldfish but it was nice having a cuddle with my neighbour’s cat, Mittens this morning. (They call him ‘Mittens’, his street name is ‘The Nailer’.)
And now with my allotment I am also responsible for the lives of 64 red onions, 58 musselburgh leeks, a cherry tree, a pear tree, a gooseberry bush, a strawberry patch, a raspberry bush and more beans, potatoes, and squash I could possibly consume between now and the next harvest. That doesn’t matter. I shall gift organic produce to my neighbours, my friends, my postman. Of course, I‘ll save a fortune on fruit and veg…and on tea bags (lemon balm or spearmint – just clip off the top leaves and dunk.)
Ah yes, spring is in the air and I’m feeling all earthy. Don’t stuff your faces with chocolate – get out there and get your hands in the soil. Dig. Plant. Grow. Nurture. It’s good and natural and life affirming.
Oh, no…don’t dig there. That’s where I buried the cat poo.
The doctor frowned a bit when I said that I saw it as a relief that I’d spent the last 25 years ‘caning it.’ I took note of her precision symmetrical bob, her perfect nails, her bright eyes and the framed pictures of the two beautiful young clones perched on the windowsill and wondered that perhaps she didn’t know what ‘caning it’ was.
“Do you know what I mean?” I asked.
“I think I do,” she offered.
“Like, the fact that I’ve been so debauched up until now means I’ve just got to be less debauched from now on.”
“That’s right,” she smiled. “You are going to need to make a few lifestyle changes. And I suppose the first of those would be…” she paused and looked at the computer screen, “I suggest you…”
“Stop caning it?”
“Stop caning it, yes. Or at least cut down a bit.”
So, the bad news is, less partying until the early hours; less booze; less pies; less burning the candle at both ends then scraping up the wax to form another candle and setting light to that as well.
The good news is, the fact that I have been doing all that stuff, consistently, over a prolonged period of time means that less is just…less. Not none at all. And at least I have stuff to give up. Some people end up in this condition through no fault of their own. Just bad luck. Or bad genes.
This condition, thanks for asking, is a condition of dangerously high blood pressure, high cholesterol and low functioning thyroid. I had gone to the doctor’s to request a couple of regular standard blood tests for a project I’m working on and came out with a request for half a dozen blood tests, two urine samples and an ECG.
Now, I have to admit I’d have to be a complete idiot not to have known I wasn’t going to skip out of the doctor’s surgery having been told “Everything is fine. Just keep eating the way you eat and drinking the amount you drink and you’ll live to a ripe old age. In fact, you could snack in front of daytime TV more often – it’ll do you good…” And If I’m honest I was kind of hoping for some sort of ‘diagnosis’ – some sort of a something wrong. Not just as a kick up the arse to encourage me to make changes, but I was desperate to be given a reason for this sudden massive weight gain I seemed to have suffered recently. Please, tell me there’s something wrong, doctor. Then it won’t be all my fault. It won’t just be because of all the pies.
Of course, I couldn’t hide my delight when the doctor mentioned ‘under active thyroid’. That was the condition I was hoping for. Bullseye. Now I could look concerned, turn my eyes to the ceiling and say, “Hmmm, yes, I thought there must be a reason for this sudden rapid weight gain. Right, so what shall we do about it doc?” Now I could say to people, “Yes, I have gained a few pounds. Under active thyroid. Not my fault. Terrible condition. Awful.” Of course, it would sound more like “Yesfh. Hmmf nnd few pounds. Unnd acc roid hmf. S’terrible. Hmfawf.” Because I’d have a mouth full of pie.
“It’s all reversible,” my doctor smiled. Sensing I had become a bit upset. Even if it’s what you hoped for it’s still a bit of a worry to find out there is actually something wrong.
“I’ll give you some pamphlets. Cut back all you can in the next few months, then we’ll do all the tests again and see where we’re at. And as you say, the good news is, you can make those changes.”
She made it sound so easy. I thought of my brother and whether he might have similar issues, what with us both sharing the same genes and all. Last time I told him I might have high cholesterol he suggested I try eating granola. But it’s not a gene related issue. And granola is full of sugar isn’t it? I thought about him anyway and that made me tearful. That and the fact that I’d have to stop caning it for a while.
“So, let’s just get you weighed before you go shall we?”
“Er, no. Let’s not.”
There are few places, no, strike that, there are no places that weighing oneself as an overweight person is an enjoyable experience. At the gym (in between hefty workouts); in the bathroom (after squeezing out every last drop of liquid and every last ounce of solids); at a weigh-in (after lying about what you’ve had to eat all week). But the worst, the absolute worst has to be in a doctors surgery. Especially when the doctor is slim and blonde and glowing and healthy looking and really nice and likely to ask me to ‘just pop myself on the scales’. No. Please don’t.
“Just pop yourself on to the scales.”
I go for the knee jerk natural action of kicking off my shoes.
“Don’t worry about your shoes, I’ll make an allowance for those,” she smiles.
I close my eyes and step on the scales. I don’t want to see the dial. I open my eyes. I can’t see the dial. My tummy is in the way.
“What does it say doc?” I don’t actually call her ‘doc’. That’s for comedic purposes. Or it would be, if it were funny.
“Well, what did you weigh last time you weighed yourself?” she asks brightly.
I tell her. I don’t even lie. Then I ask…”has it gone up? Do I weigh more than that now?”
“Well,” she sits back down and starts typing the data in to her computer. “Not unless your shoes weigh two stone.”
They must do. That must be it. Heavy shoes. I hate these shoes. I’m going to throw them straight in to the bin. After I’ve been up Sainsbury’s and bought myself a bag of granola.