Drops In The Ocean…



I didn’t go to Lesvos to help the refugees. I went to Lesvos to deliver humourology workshops at the International Women’s Festival In Scala, Eressos. But when you are on the island that is dealing with an alleged 50% of the refugee landings you can’t help but become involved.

When Nicky met me at the airport she was also meeting 350kg of donations from friends in the UK. Her partner had found out that a Thomas Cook flight was flying with 64 empty seats and talked them into using the consequently redundant luggage allowance to deliver the much needed clothing, nappies and toiletries to the refuge centre in Molyvos.

When we passed through Mytiline I got a glimpse of the temporary ‘camps’ that have been set up. Some tents, but mostly people sleeping rough. With just the clothes they had arrived in and very little else. The air heavy with confusion, uncertainty and the smell of fear and damp sweat. These were the ones who had made it to Mytiline. Still no closer to knowing what the future held for them but at least with the sense that they had a future. We were about to drive past hundreds of others still on the road. Tired, hungry, frightened. None knowing how many of the necessary 80km they had travelled along the twisty mountainous track. Forging on in the 37º heat of the afternoon. Young men with nothing. Families clutching their belongings in bin liners. Seeking shade under the olive trees even if that meant sitting in the middle of the road. Some with no water. Some with no shoes.

The refuge centre was a well organised sorting station. Taking in the donations and attempting to order them into sensible packages. Men’s clothes, women’s clothes, clothes for kids, for babies, summer clothes, winter clothes, toiletries, nappies, shoes, coats, towels. Everything that was donated had a place. And everything had a use. Except for the pink ra-ra dress. The pink ra-ra dress has no place in this crisis. Except to maybe bring a moment of levity to this group of exhausted volunteers sorting through things in the dust.

The next time we visit the refuge they are putting up a corrugated roof in anticipation of bad weather. There are eight of us in a hire car and a 4×4 with some donations and a full day to help wherever help is needed.

“Sit and have some tea with us first,” says Eric. This is his place. His home and workshop which has been adapted to support the situation. I ask Eric what we can do to be of most help. He suggests we come up with him and take a look at the beaches.

“They are completely awash with life jackets”, he explains. “Hundreds and hundreds of discarded life jackets. If anyone has any spare time we need people clearing the beaches.”

Right then. So that is what we will do. The tea has just brewed when Eric gets the call. Up to eleven boats are on their way. All eight of us climb into the 4×4 and follow Eric up to Eftalou. If his description was chilling, the reality is horrific. Beautiful, long, sweeping beaches edged with dramatic, craggy cliffs and lapped upon by the crystal clear, turquoise waters of the Aegean. Paradise. The perfect holiday destination. Tranquil and picturesque. Except this corner of paradise is currently a disaster zone. From high up on the coastal road we can see amongst the sand and pebbles the red, blue and hi-vis orange of the lifejackets. The huge rubber carcasses of the inflatable dinghies that are burst on arrival so they can’t be utilised any further. Clothes, shoes, towels. Discarded in the panic. Left behind in the hurry to get up the cliffs to dry land. In amongst it all there are also rubber rings, inner tubes and armbands. Armbands. With cartoon fishes and colourful seaweed patterns. I am sure printed on there somewhere will be the warning: This is not a flotation device. This item is a toy. This item was designed to be used whilst splashing about having fun in a swimming pool not retreating from a civil war across a 10km body of deep water. The image sends a shiver up my spine. I catch the eye of Marie, one of the other girls squashed up in the back of the truck alongside me. I can tell she is thinking the same.

Today we have to be the strong ones. We can’t show that we find this upsetting. We have to keep it together and inspire calm and hope. Marie places her hand on my arm. A single tear trickles a fresh path down a face that is covered in dust and sand and full of sadness and empathy. She grits her teeth and nods at me. We both know what we have to do. But still we both look at those piles and piles of life jackets knowing that each and every one of them, at some point, had a body inside. Each discarded lifejacket represents a human being fleeing for their life.

The refugees are cheering as their boats near the shore. So happy. So excited. Volunteers wade into the shallows to take the children and babies – some of them newborn – ashore to safety. A group of young girls from Norway clamber up the cliffs with children in their arms and on their shoulders. The younger men climb up on their own, laughing and checking their mobile phones. Old ladies hoist huge backpacks over their shoulders and fathers carry plastic bags full of their families belongings. We make a human chain to help them up the rocks. They have not landed in the best place. 100m further down the coastline is a flat beach but they have come up on the rocks. What do they know? Their ‘captain’ has probably never driven a boat before. He won’t know how to steer. He can just point the boat at the land ahead and hope for the best. Most of his passengers can’t swim. It is a miracle that this ridiculously overloaded inflatable has made it at all. But it has. A miracle which is celebrated by more cheering, applause, tears and cries of “Salaam, Salaam”. You are welcome.

I don’t know who the people are to whom I hold out my hand. Lawyers and doctors maybe? Plumbers and motor mechanics? Secretaries, nurses, teachers? Mothers, Fathers. Brothers and Sisters. Aunts and Uncles. I take a heavy backpack from an elderly lady. She doesn’t challenge me or question me. She is helped up the cliffs and I make sure her bag gets to her before returning to the queue of people struggling over the rocks. A young girl slips and holds her hands out to me, I catch her and she throws herself against me. She is maybe seven or eight years old. The same age as my youngest niece. I hold her for a moment and she clings to me. There is another younger girl and a woman with the same smile. Her sister and mother. They are safe. I hold her out at arm’s length and she looks into my eyes.

“You’re okay,” I say. “You’re safe.” This little thing still has days and days and days to travel. But right now this is true. She is okay. She is safe. I hug her again and her mother smiles and nods a ‘thank you’.

Everyone is safely ashore. This is a boatload of survivors. The air is filled with the explosion of the boat being burst. Like a gunshot, or a firework. There is silence for a few seconds and then more cheering as we welcome the next boat ashore. There are stories of people arriving with bullet wounds. With shrapnel still embedded into their bodies. Riddled with gangrene and unable to walk. These are the ones that will not make it. Stories of women going into labour on the beach. A paraplegic man who has had to be carried the whole way. These are people who would rather face death on the run than be killed in their homeland.

Some of them have already been travelling for up to two weeks before they even get to Lesvos. They still have to get to Mytiline, then perhaps to Athens, and then to who knows where? Some of them are heard asking “Where are we?” Someone understands a woman who says “People here have a big heart”. With each boat that successfully comes in spirits stay high and the air is full of optimism. This is our job. Our current role is to be strong and positive. To help them up onto the road and point them in the right direction. Smile at them. Shake hands with them. Welcome them. Check they are okay. Give them water. Give them whatever dry clothes we have. Give them fruit and biscuits. Give them a tiny ray of hope that the world isn’t all bad and that – for a little while at least – they no longer need to be afraid. For the time being they are safe. And they are on their way.

“This road. Just follow this road. Just keep walking.”

No one mentions that the walk is almost 80km.

I look at the beaches and think of what Eric said. I start to gather life jackets into a pile. It will take hundreds of people days to clear the debris. But it will keep on coming. We all pull together and haul one of the boats up off the beach and out of the way. We hang the high vis jackets in the trees to guide the next boats to a better stretch of beach to land. We can already see other boats on the water. They will be here within the hour. In the meantime we clear the beaches. We hang clothes out to dry. We rack our brains for ways we could recycle or reuse the lifejackets. One thing we need are baby slings. Surely if you turn a small child’s life jacket upside down and strap it tightly a baby’s legs could go through the armholes and it could serve as a temporary baby carrier. Better than just carrying the baby. And with all that padding the baby would be warm and comfy. What about also if we take some of the straps off the adult life jackets – they could be appropriated as baggage handles to make their luggage easier to carry. All I need is a pair of scissors or a knife and I could have a few of these knocked up in time for the next boat. Just a blade, something sharp. And a hundred more volunteers to gather in the life jackets.

I throw a few jackets into the back of the truck to experiment with later, grab one of the hi-vis orange jackets and join the line of volunteers on the beach waving the next boat in to the best stretch of beach with their cries of “Salaam, Salaam”.

On our drive back to Scala we search for the most needy refugees to whom we can offer a lift to the halfway house at Kallonis. It’s impossible to be selective when everyone is so vulnerable but we are looking specifically for families with young children. We pick up a mother and father with a small boy of four or five. His beautiful long lashes drooping over his tired, bewildered eyes. The father speaks perfect english and explains that they have been walking for nine days so far. We stop at a supermarket and buy bread, cheese and juice for everyone. Realising that we haven’t eaten since breakfast. It is now almost 5pm. The family stand outside of the car in the shade. I stay in the back of the truck and – in a moment of pure surrealism – attempt to connect into a prearranged conference call. My ‘other’ life colliding with this current life and throwing into question which one is my reality. I look across at the family. The father puts his arms around his wife and they hold each other for a moment. Just a normal family. Having a hug.

In the shop, Nicky buys a packet of plastic dinosaurs and offers them to the boy.

“Just choose one,” she says. “You can have which ever one is your favourite.”

“You can’t only give him one,” says Sandy. “He has to have two. So they can fight.”

Sure enough, the boy’s face lights up when he is allowed two dinosaurs. And sure enough he spends the rest of the journey bashing them against each other in mock battle. The mother and father chat. For the meantime they are in a good place. Maybe they are talking about what they are going to do next? Where will they get their next meal? What will they do when they get to Mytiline, or to Athens? We don’t know. They speak in their own language. Gently and thoughtfully. For a brief moment it is like we are all just on a pleasant, if not slightly bizarre day trip together.

Things become more heated when we arrive at the halfway house. We decide that we have room for another family and see a mother and father with two small children. People are trying to climb into the truck. We offer them water but explain that we don’t have room for anyone else. We point to the children and explain that we are taking children first. A grown man tries to force himself into the back of the truck with us. Sandy has to be clear that we have no room for him. He is strong and healthy. He can walk. He is fine.

We close the doors and the little boy starts to cry.

“He is my brother”, says the man.

“You will find him,” says Nicky. “In Kallinis, you will find him.”

The man repeats this to his son in their own language but the boy continues to cry. He is not convinced that he will see his uncle again any time soon.

Neither am I.

For the remainder of the journey we fall into a routine whereby Sandy slows right down whenever we pass a group of refugees walking and calls “water” to us in the back of the truck. We hold bottles out until everyone has fresh water and call back to Sandy “done”, and she drives on. We focus on the rhythm of our system and remember to smile and say encouraging things to those we pass at the side of the road. Anything to distract from the disappointment we see as we pull away and leave them there. Anything to take our minds off the fact that we can’t help everyone. We have a car load and yet we can only help two families today. Two families out of the hundreds that have landed in the last few hours. A drop in the ocean. But a drop, at least. The truck slows down and a group of young men clamour round the window. We hand them bottles of water and wish them good luck. A little girl jumps up at the window and looks longingly into the truck. All I can do is hand her some water and a dinosaur.

“Done,” I call to Sandy and we pull away.


A few days later I am packing to come home to England. I will fly via Brussels where I am staying for one night to deliver another workshop. It doesn’t seem right to be leaving this place where there is so much to be done. I remind myself that I was only in Lesvos for the festival. I can come back in the winter when help will be really needed. So many people; holiday makers, tourists, ex-pats are demonstrating such kindness, such dedication and such humanity. Hiring cars and shuttling donations up to Molyvos. Driving to the wholesalers to buy water and bananas. Waiting at Eftalou to help people in off the boats.

On the Friday night we hold a benefit concert which raises €1000. I am chuffed to bits but stunned to hear that €1000 will only buy one day’s worth of water. €1000 feels like a lot of money until you divide it between the hundreds of thousands of people in need. Another drop in the ocean. But a day’s worth of water that we didn’t have before. One more act of kindness.

As holiday makers move off the island they are asked to leave behind anything they can. Any clothes – shoes especially – towels, suncream. Anything they can do without. I pack a bag with shorts, t-shirts and toiletries. Then I place my beloved walking boots on top.

“You’re sure you want to give away your walking boots?”

I look at my scuffed up boots, worn on the heels and stretched and gnarled to the contours of my feet.

“Are they a bit too scruffy?” Suddenly I am embarrassed by the state of them and feel patronising. Who would want my stinky old boots?

“They’re dry.” So they go into the bag.

For a fleeting moment I worry that my feet will be freezing when I arrive in the UK in flip flops but then I remind myself, “I can buy new shoes.”

As an independent, liberated, secure, unthreatened woman living in the UK, I can just pop to the shops and buy new shoes. New clothes. Shampoo. Toothpaste. I’m not in any trouble. This is not likely to be a problem. For me there is always a solution. How fortunately able I am to solve the issue of ‘being without’ becomes unmistakably clear when I arrive in Brussels to find that my luggage is still in Athens. Suddenly, I too find myself in the position of having little more than the clothes I stand up in. And the clothes I stand up in are not appropriate attire in which to deliver a corporate workshop. A workshop that starts in less than two hours time. I manage to blag my way to the front of the ‘filling-out-the-form-to-say-your-luggage-is-lost-and-where-you-would-like-it-sent-to-if-it-eventually-ever-gets-found’ queue and realise that I don’t really know where I should get it sent. Will it make it to the hotel before I leave in the morning? Doubtful. I moved out of my house on the day I flew out to Lesvos so I currently don’t have an address. I am homeless. Of no fixed abode. Sans address. No home and now no clothes. Twisted karma.

I am not suggesting that I am in the same situation as the refugees. My loss is inconvenient. Irritating. Frustrating. But fixable. Almost immediately fixable. Or certainly within the next two hours. It had to be. I call my work colleague and explain the situation. He will try to get hold of a black shirt for me. All I need now is black trousers, shoes, socks, knickers, bra. Oh, and tampons. In amongst the chaos I’ve managed to start my period. I know I can find these things. I know that I am being met at the airport by a driver who will take me to a shopping centre where I can whirl through in a frenzy putting together an identikit outfit for myself. Black trousers, tick. Knickers and bra, tick. Oh, black trainers. The ugliest black trainers I have ever seen. Trainers I would never wear indoors, let alone out in public. Do they have my size? Yes. Trainers, tick. Better bra than the last one, tick. Three pack trainer socks, tick. Tampons, no tick. Pharmacy, no tick. It’s a nice hotel. They’ll have tampons. I race back to the car and finally relax knowing I have done all I can to make things happen in the way they need to.

It is a really nice hotel. With a really lovely spa. Usually I get there a bit early and go for a swim and a sauna. My costume is in my luggage and anyway, I don’t have time. If this had happened to me a few weeks ago I would be fuming now. Full of anger at the airline. Angry at the ground staff for not moving my bag along quickly enough to make the transfer. Angry at the girl who huffed and puffed at me when I jumped the queue. Angry at the stupid weather for delaying the plane. Angry that I now have to rush. That I won’t get a swim. That I am forced to wear ugly trainers. All seems so ridiculous now. As I sit in a swanky Mercedes surrounded by bags of newly acquired clothes.

When I arrive at the hotel the receptionist gives me a wide smile.

“Ah, Miss King. I am so sorry to hear about your baggage, but we will chase it for you and hopefully have it returned tomorrow.” Her reassurance makes me relax and in doing so I realise how tense I was. Then another receptionist appears and asks,

“Miss King? Yes?”

“Yes, hello.”

“Ah, we have something for you. With our compliments.”

She hands me a little red bag tied up with a white satin bow containing shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, soap, a comb, a shower cap, a sewing kit, a toothbrush and toothpaste and a shaving kit.

In that moment I want to cry. She is so pleased that she has been able to do this for me. And even though all this stuff will be in my room anyway the fact that she has put me together my own little kit is touching beyond words. The fact that she has thought about it and taken the time to put it together with such care and such kindness. And then it hits me. It’s just another little act of kindness. In a totally different situation. In another world. In a different universe almost. It’s a little act of human kindness that has made everything okay. She can’t turn back the clock. She can’t suddenly present me with my luggage. But she’s done something. Something kind. Something helpful. It doesn’t make the problem go away and it doesn’t solve the issue but it makes everything a little bit more bearable and makes me feel a little bit cared about and a little bit more comfortable and as if things are not so bad. In the same way that we can’t fix the refugee crisis overnight. Maybe we can’t fix it at all. But we can show up. We can smile and tell them that they are welcome. We can give them our shoes, our clothes, our shampoo.

“Please let me know if you need anything else,” she smiles.

“I don’t suppose you have any tampons?”

“Of course.”

Of course.

Little acts of kindness. Little drops in the ocean. It’s something we all can do.

If you think you may be able to help but you are unsure how to get involved then visit: https://www.facebook.com/RefugeesSTART?fref=ts These are kind people doing kind things.

listen up!!

Very excited to announce that as of this week, I have joined the salubrious company of Francine Lewis and Dominic Littlewood as a Voice Over artist for Soho Voices.

I’m excited to announce this news.

In my best speaking voice.

Red Lorry. Yellow Lorry.


National Bonnie Tyler Day

So, what does one do on the day of a solar eclipse when one is just a hop, skip and a jump from a beach hut on the south coast? Well, one hops, skips and jumps down to the beach to view the spectacle of course. At least, one ambles down with a flask of coffee and a danish.

When I say danish, I don’t mean that I’m going down to the beach with someone from Denmark. Or a rasher of bacon. Although either of those would have been nice. In this case though, I am referring to a vanilla croissant crown left over from yesterday’s ‘breakfast meeting’. The actual total eclipse, (“turn around, bright eyes…”) is actually eclipsing over the south coast at approximately 9.35am. I arrive at my beach hut at 9.04am and drag a chair down to the tide line to settle myself into a strong easterly facing position.

Last time I sat on the beach waiting for the sun to do something was in Argelès-sur-Mer where all I demanded of it was that it rise. It was still a dark, starry night when I carted a wicker arm chair down to the water’s edge from a beach cafe and plonked myself down expectantly. After about two hours I began to doubt that it would ever happen. The sky didn’t appear to be getting any lighter, the moon was still out and there was definitely no sign of the sun. Then I started to worry, as you do, that that day was in actual fact, the official end of the world. There would be no sun. Here was I, a tiny speck on the sand in Southern France, witnessing the end of civilisation as we know it. Then it popped up over the horizon. A bright, burning ball of orange flames streaking the sky with pink, hazy scuds of cloud. I was so relieved I wrote a poem.

Then there was the total eclipse, (“Once upon a time there was light in my life…”) of August 1999, when a bunch of mates bundled up to Hampstead Heath with a blanket and some champagne and viewed it through funny little cardboard glasses with one red lens and one green lens that had come free with the paper. We all expected the bright, sunny day to suddenly turn to night – completely dark with full visibility of discernible constellations – but it just got a bit colder, felt a bit spooky for a few moments and left us all commenting on how weird it was when the birds stopped singing.

Today I didn’t need any silly cardboard glasses as my eyes were fully protected by a sheet of dense, grey cloud but still I sat, moving my chair slowly up the beach as the tide gradually drew in, waiting, watching for the universe to do something amazing.

I’m not going to use the word ‘disappointing’. That’s a nasty word. Especially when the only reason such an awesome event could be disappointing is if a human being decides that it should be some sort of dazzling display provided as free entertainment. Like The Aurora Borealis, or a meteorite shower. Or when a leaf falls off a tree. We don’t deserve dashed expectations because in actual fact, these things do not happen purely for our enjoyment. They happen because that is what happens. That is nature innit? So massive, so palpable so… ‘there’. So much bigger, more powerful and more significant than any of us could ever be and yet so humble. Spring is the perfect time to appreciate this. Just look at all the pretty little flowers opening up. In the words of Joan Walsh Anglund, ‘Spring does not ask an audience, but shapes each blossom perfectly, indifferent to applause’.

So, okay, I didn’t really see much of a solar eclipse today. The clouds wisped open for a split second and I saw what looked like a shadow of a crescent moon, except it was the sun and it was the moon that was causing the shadow…and hey, I’m happy with that. That is what was supposed to happen. That was what the universe was supposed to be doing at 9.35am this morning. And I was supposed to be sitting on a beautiful, tranquil, peaceful beach with a calm, approaching tide lapping at my chair, appreciating it. Acknowledging it. And being grateful for it. Just as I was grateful that day over 25 years ago when the sun truly did come up and this wonderful world didn’t end after all. Phew.

As I walked off the beach I was greeted by a old guy wearing North Face gear and a big smile who asked me, “Did you see it?”. I was so cheered by his enthusiasm and reassured by the fact that he too was returning home after viewing the event. At least I knew I wasn’t going to miss the grande finale. How lovely, I thought, to meet a fellow eclipse viewer, a nature lover, a like-minded soul, someone else in tune with the universe, someone aware of the importance of appreciating the happenings of nature. “What’s that? Some sort of fancy viewing device?” he asked, pointing to the thermos flask in my hand.

“No, it’s a thermos flask” I answered, but I raised it to my eye anyway. It seemed the right thing to do.

a chip off the old block

Yesterday morning I sewed a lilac fringing onto a turquoise tablecloth and in the afternoon I laid some vinyl flooring. I haven’t felt such a heady mix of butch and femme since I crafted myself a pink satin cummerbund. I’m renovating a caravan. Two caravans actually. If you are to imagine that a caravan is a bit like a tiny house then renovating one is a bit like renovating a tiny house. Or two tiny houses. And in the same way that a house has walls and windows and floors and furniture and curtains and a bathroom and a kitchen with a fridge and an oven and a hob that needs gas and a tap that needs water and a spare wheel that needs pumping up, well so does a caravan. Actually, houses don’t have spare wheels so this is essentially an even bigger job than renovating a whole house. It’s multi tasking to the max. It’s Grand Designs and Tiny House Nation all at once. It’s all going on. I’m renovating the lot. Everything but the kitchen sink. Except…and the kitchen sink.

I’m lucky enough to be able to do all of this at my parent’s place. They don’t know this yet as they are out of the country but I’m sure they’ll be fine when news reaches them that a band of travellers appear to have settled on their drive. You see, it’s not just the two caravans. It’s also Patsy, my beloved 1976 VW camper van that is getting a makeover. It’s fine. There’s plenty of room for all three vehicles. At least there is now that I’ve moved dad’s car out onto the road.

Then there’s dad’s garage with it’s plethora of tools and gadgets and helpful things like work benches and ladders and dust sheets and paint rollers. It also contains a set of six pine doors, three bike racks, all the left over tins of all the paints ever used anywhere ever and a set of golf clubs but I don’t think I’ll be needing any of that. I’ve also found a cupboard with a strip of masking tape stuck to the door bearing the description ‘sanders, router, jigsaw’. Following further inspection it transpires that this would be much more accurate if it read ‘dad’s secret wine stash’ for the cupboard is chocca with bottles of red. This will be the ‘special stuff’. Some of these wines will be at least three years old and may have cost anything up to £7.50.

Recalling the last time I rummaged around in dad’s garage and stumbled upon a jam jar full of urine (“Well, your mother was in the loo and I didn’t know how long she’d be…”) I decide to only borrow what I need and use my own tools wherever possible. This is probably best on all accounts as dad’s tools are very precious. When I look at his selection of hammers and screwdrivers and chisels and trowels they are the same quality, wooden handled, well looked after and cared for tools that I watched him work with as a child. When I was a child, not him. That is impossible. Although some of these tools are probably that old and may indeed have belonged to his father. To Pop. To a time when you looked after your stuff because things were made to last. There is something really rather special about handling equipment that has been well utilised. The weight in the hand of a good solid piece of kit that has seen a bit of life and been employed by generations. I’m reverent as I remove the caravan’s interior covering with dad’s wallpaper scraper. Deferential when I hook out unwanted staples with his pliers. And it is with a great deal of respect that I pee into his jam jar.

I’m frightened I might damage or break something. Imagine, all those years of conscientious regard ruined in a nano second. Then I hear my dad’s voice say “They’re just tools love. They’re there to be used.” In my head this is accompanied by strains of a song by US singer-songwriter Catie Curtis, “Dad’s Yard”.

“So if you need something
When times get hard
You can probably find it
In my Dad’s yard
And if you need hope
If you’re coming apart
You can surely find it
In my Dad’s heart …”

These tools have been used to build me a bed that hung from the ceiling, a hutch for my rabbit and a case for the clarinet I begged for and then never played. These tools built our coffee table. They carved a tiny black horse to replace a missing chess piece and chiselled the wooden heads of a set of six hand puppets for my brother and I one Christmas. And as dad worked with wood, mum worked with fabric. Sewing the mini costumes for the puppets out of scraps of material, hemming a pair of shorts for my teddy bear and adding badges to my Brownie Guide uniform. Just as dad’s tool box has a history, so does mum’s sewing box. And the sewing machine I used this morning to fringe tablecloths is the same sewing machine she used to fashion me countless outfits in the ’70’s. People made their own clothes back then. Mum would often interrupt me half way through a ‘painting by numbers’ project to ask me to thread up a needle for her so she could clatter away at that machine. Altering an old dress of hers to fit me, fitting elastic to a spraydeck for my brother’s canoe or knocking up a trouser suit in hot pink or purple featuring a flowery complimentary fabric for the collar, the puffy ‘lamb chop’ sleeves and the inset in the flared trousers.

And so it is, that while mum and dad enjoy red wine at £1.88 a bottle in Spain, I’m borrowing their stuff. Their house, their drive, their tools and their appliances. What is curious is that while I am inhabiting their environment I also seem to be assuming all their little idiosyncrasies. How we laugh at the fact that dad always has elevenses at eleven and lunch at one. At how mum pulls the curtains the second it gets dark and always has to ‘have the news on’. Not only am I adhering to the usual rules of the house – close the doors to keep the heat in; spray the shower screen down with ‘screen clean’ after each use; turn the lights off when you leave a room – but I am completely adopting the behaviour patterns of the usual inhabitants of the property. In other words…I am turning into my mum and dad. I’m osmotically ageing.

At about ten to eleven this morning I started to crave a coffee. I struck up a conversation with the postman. I took the bus for one stop. I cut short a call to ‘directory enquiries’ because it’s “too bloody expensive”. I sprayed down the surfaces and did a wordsearch. I put my used teabag on the small teapot shaped ceramic dish next to the kettle and I settled down at 5.15pm with a G&T and a dish of nuts to watch Pointless. Before I know it I’ll be ‘popping out for a paper’, complaining that ‘peppers don’t agree with me’, or doing a quick ‘hoover through’. Things will start ‘giving me jip’, I might ‘have a fall’ or ‘take off my cardie so I feel the benefit when I go outdoors’. Before I have chance to say “well, blow me down,” I’ll be weeing in jam jars and leafing through the Betterware catalogue.

Good lord, is that the time? I need to pop to the village for a few items and it’s free parking until 10.30am. I’ll call in at the butchers and get some nice chops for tea. I might even pick myself up a scratch card, I’m feeling lucky. Right then, best be off if I want to be back in time for elevensies.

read all about it

Awww, you guys.

The reaction to my last blog really touched me. It was so sweet and illustrated two things.

Firstly, it shows me that people do actually read this drivel. I was at lunch with a friend the other day who said that she had read my blog and that she had started writing a blog a while ago but had stopped writing it because it had ‘become too much of a chore’. That’s no good we both agreed – writing a blog should be fun. And so it is. For me anyway. It’s a delightful, cathartic release of all the nonsense that is swimming around inside my head. A capturing of my daily thoughts. Well, my weekly or ten-daily thoughts. This mustn’t become a chore remember? It’s an account of the comings and goings; the musings and ruminations; the opinions and the folly. Basically, I’m letting you read my diary.

I have kept a diary ever since I learned to write. I still have them all. From the illustrated and very detailed descriptions of visits to my grandparents and camping trips aged five, to the slightly more inane ramblings of an almost forty year old.

Then I stopped. The diaries just come to an end. Like I’d died. Or run out of ink.

Of course what actually happened is the world went digital. It was around the same time as my second niece was born. My lovely, delightful, wonderful second niece who sits on my lap leafing through reams and reams of photo albums crammed with postcard sized images of her older sister in her pram, with her favourite teddy, with ice cream running down her chin, playing in the snow, and asks, “why haven’t you got any pictures of me Lala?”

“Oh, well, I have….I’ve got loads. It’s just, they’re on the computer.”

“Can we look at them?”

“Er, well, we can…but I’ll have to set it all up and the pictures of you are mixed in with all sorts of other pictures of other things that I’m sure you don’t want to see.”

“But can we look at some pictures of me?”

“Of course we can…at some point. I need to organise them into albums.”

“Like these albums? All nice like this?”

“No, not really sweetheart. Because they’re not printed up like these ones. Not on paper, in an album. They’re on the computer.”

“Not the same?”

“No. Not the same. You’re absolutely right. Not the same at all.”

Likewise, no more diaries. No more leatherbound books, tattered at the corners, worn from being thrown into a suitcase or an overnight bag. No more sitting up late on a Sunday night by the bedside lamp with a cup of tea recounting the events of the ’best weekend EVER’. No more pages locked with a tiny padlock containing the warning…”Private…do not read.” Then, on the next page…”I said, Do not read.” And on the next…”Can’t you read? I said, DO NOT READ.” Then “Put this diary down right now, this is PRIVATE.” Only to be followed by a book containing only blank pages because I wasn’t really exotic enough to have many secrets at age twelve.

I stopped writing with a pen and paper and started to type my thoughts on a keyboard and save them in documents titled dubiously ‘THAT night’, or ‘It happened AGAIN’. And in going digital, like so many others, I also went public.

And so this is what we do now. We blog. We tweet. We recount all our adventures, our nights out, our family gatherings and celebrations on facebook, on instagram, online. Cropped and captioned. Shared and airbrushed.

And because I’ve always kept a diary, I’m in. Because I enjoy writing and recounting and storytelling, this is right up my street. And because I then put it out there, people read it. You guys. Look. You’re reading it now. So, hey…thanks. Thanks for reading. I’d sort of forgotten you were there. But you are. So that’s the first thing I’ve learnt.

That you’re there. Reading my blog. Whatever it is or it is supposed to be. I know I’ve specified that it’s not going to be a blog solely about diets and drinking – and look at me today – I haven’t mentioned either. Fab.

The second thing I’ve learned is….is….oh. The second thing is about diets and drinking. Maybe I’ll leave it there for today.

After all, I wouldn’t want it to become too much of a chore.


So, ‘dry’ February has turned out to be a bit of a wash out. Surprised? Yep. Guess what? I failed. I set myself up again. And I failed again. Why do I do it? Why do I think that just because I’ve given the challenge a fancy title with quotation marks I will suddenly have the strength and determination to abstain from a substance that has been my dearest friend and closest ally for almost three decades? Even when I’ve had some mouth-watering soft drink suggestions and one or two helpful hints for not drinking anything at all. Nil by mouth never tasted so good.

Right, so, this isn’t going to be a blog about giving up drinking, just as in February last year this was not going to be a blog about going on a diet – but I was so pleased with myself for going without booze for an entire week and I was really looking forward to reporting the newly discovered spring in my step, the feeling of lightness in my head and the almost sure certainty that I hadn’t said anything stupid or acted like a complete twat for a full 96 hours. But then I fell.

At which hurdle did I fall? I hear you ask. Was it a raucous party at the weekend? An after-show ‘do’? A wedding? A sunday afternoon session?


It was a quiet night in at my mum and dads. It was a quiet night in that involved, as all evenings at my mum and dads involve, the six o’clock G&T. The lovely G&T in the delightful ‘crystal cut’ glasses that dad got free with the petrol. The chink of the ice against the glass as dad calls out to me “Gin, love?” not even having to add “and tonic,” for he knows that I know what he means. The ‘schtuk’ as the slice of lemon is thrown in, then the familiar sound of the metal lid of the gin bottle being unscrewed and the glug, glug, glug, as a hefty measure is expertly poured. Then the ‘fzzzz’ of the tonic, invariably followed by the “oh shit” of the tonic spraying onto the shirt, followed by the ‘psshhh’ of the tonic fizzing into the glass. The delicious masterpiece is complete. Yum yum yum.

I could feel my resolve weakening by 5.30pm. I knew it was coming. I knew I needed to pre-warn my dad, to let him know in advance that I wouldn’t be having a gin and tonic tonight at six o’clock. I needed to tip him off. I had done this before – asked for just a tonic with ice and lemon. So it looks like a gin and tonic but without the gin. I remember their reaction on that occasion. Slightly confused and almost a little bit offended.

“Are you sure? No Gin? Why not?”

Of course I was trying to be good but their other assumption was that I was only joking. “Really? Honestly? You’re not having a gin?” Said this time in a tone that suggested “Okay, but you’ll be sorry…You’re the one missing out…”

Thing is, I know I’m missing out. And I really, really want to join them in their polite and quaint english family custom. But it doesn’t stop at one for me, especially not within reach of my parent’s fabulously stocked drinks cabinet and so actually the truth is that if I do have a gin I will end up missing out in the long run; on conversation, balance and event recall; and I will undoubtably be sorry.

By 5.45pm I’m on the phone to the support line of my sister-in-law. “It’s Friday night, and I really want to have a gin with mum and dad.”

“Course you do. That’s what you do on Friday night at your mum and dads.”

“But I can’t…”

“Why not?”

“Erm…I…I…because…because, well…” suddenly ‘dry’ February seems a bit daft. It’s Friday night. I’m at mum and dads. It’s six o’clock. “I’m trying, well, I’m sort of, it’s…”

“Gin, love?”

“Thanks, dad.”

Easy as that. No resolve at all. None. That’s how it happened. That’s the hurdle I fell at. I practically threw myself at it. And if I am to continue the ‘wet/dry’ analogy then it was surely the water jump. And I’m soaked.

Because once you’ve fallen you lie in the mud for a while. Or in this instance, you keep on drinking.  You have the six o’clock G&T on Saturday and Sunday as well. Then you take a bottle of wine round to your friends for dinner on Monday, have a pint in the pub on Tuesday, more wine on Wednesday, a ‘bit of a sesh’ on Thursday and before you know it it’s 5.45pm on Friday again and you can almost hear the ice cubes rattling in the glass.

So now it’s Tuesday. Not any old Tuesday but Shrove Tuesday. Which means that tomorrow is the beginning of Lent. Which is when we give stuff up.

So I get another chance.

Tomorrow. I start again tomorrow.


Pass the Gordons then, it’s almost 5.55pm.

One Day At A Time Sweet Sherry…

Bloody hell, here we are in February already! The final firework of New Year’s Eve only just seems to have fizzled out and we are into the second month of 2015.

So, what’s what with the usual ‘regime’ and ‘resolutions’ we inexplicably force ourselves into at this time of year? Inciting failure so early on. What is wrong with us?

This year I tried to be realistic. Not just silly like my usual New Year’s resolution of “I’m going to give up going to bed early, or I’m going to give up stroking the cat’s fur the wrong way or I’m going to give up having vegetables except at weekends…” No, this year I am being sensible.

So just as everyone is getting hammered to celebrate a successful ‘dry January’ I am embarking upon a ‘dry February’. I couldn’t do January. It’s too soon after Christmas and there’s still loads of booze in the house. Besides, I was going to Rehkya, Rekyya, Rekkjhav….Iceland. A gang of us were heading out to see the Northern Lights for a mates 50th birthday. There was no way I would spend that weekend sober. I mean, first I had to get through Duty Free. Then there would be all that lovely cold Icelandic beer. Pure Icelandic vodka. Flavoured vodka. White Russians. Liquorice Liquor. Hip flasks full of Cointreau. Yeah, that last one’s a bit weird but thats what we did. We also did Baileys, out of the bottle, on the beach. We did that too. Because we could. And of course, Brennivín. The national drink of Iceland. It’s essentially a schnapps made from potatoes and flavoured with caraway. It’s no mistake that it sounds a bit like Benolyn and is locally referred to as “Black Death”, which explains a lot. Icelanders never touch the stuff.

So there was just no point in giving up drinking for the first two weeks of January knowing that I would ‘blow it’ from the 15th onwards. No point at all. Even though I could have benefitted greatly just from that fortnight of not drinking. No point. I was going to Iceland and I was going to drink. Why set yourself up to fail? Of course, when I got back it would only be two weeks until the end of January so no point in starting now only to mess it up again….no, I’ll wait until February.

Now it’s February. Dry February. Although I’m struggling with that as a ‘label’. As an incentive. As a goal. I don’t want to just do ‘dry February’. I want a dryer life in general. I want to do ‘dry 2015’…but with a few slightly squelchy occasions along the way. Dry with scattered showers. The occasional messy downpour. What I’d love to master is the ability to just dip my toe in or get slightly damp without having to totally soak myself and stay positively wringing wet all night.

To just be able to have the occasional glass of wine. Maybe two. And then say, “no more for me thanks.” There are people that can do that. Just as someone is about to top them up they put their hand over their glass and say, “that’s plenty thanks.” I’ve seen them. How can I get to that point where I can self monitor? Self regulate. Self care. That point where just one little tipple doesn’t mean, “the flood gates are open guys, bring it on. Pour as much down my neck as I can possibly swallow, then just keep pouring. Ad-lib ’til fade.

See, in order to do that I think, I strongly do believe, that I have to stop drinking alcohol completely for….honestly…three months. Three months of nothing at all and then a slow reintroduction. Not, “wahay! I did it! Pop the magnum!” But a slow, “maybe I’ll have one glass of wine tonight. Maybe not.” Maybe even then I should avoid spirits, or beer, actually or wine, maybe I should just never drink again. But for now, I should just set myself the goal that I don’t drink today. Today I will not drink. Look at me, it’s already the 2nd February and not even a sip.

I’ve had a lucky start as I was at a Buddhist meeting on Sunday morning which always makes me feel very righteous and inspired and like I should behave myself. I even avoided the glass of ‘toast’ Prosecco, even though I had one shoved into my hand. I ‘pretended’ to sip it at the toast but DIDN’T!!! I didn’t actually have any! How good is that? I could have been led astray within the first few hours of my determination but I was stronger than that. I placed the still full glass back on the table in the knowledge that someone – someone representing the ‘old me’ – would be sure to mine-sweep it up later, and turned my attention to some lovely crispy carrots and hummus. Yum.

Then, last night I went to a bar. A bar. A bar that sells drinks. It has drinks of every description all on display for you to pick and choose from, each of them with their attractive, colourful, intricate labels all lined up like so many jars of sweeties at the ‘Pick ’n’ Mix’ counter at Woolworth’s. Ah, how I would lament the disappearance of the ‘Pick ’n’ Mix’ counter at Woolworth’s if I hadn’t replaced buying sweets with drinking in bars. Bars where the booze calls out to me, “Pick me…” “Mmmm, I’m yummy…” “I can make you feel good….” Obviously, I’d never drink that last one because that’s just creepy, but there they are nonetheless – teasing and taunting from their little optic display like a row of delicious can-can dancers. We are here. We are available. Come on in. But I didn’t. I had a cup of tea and a ginger beer.

That’s the trick I think. To become a connoisseur of soft drinks. To grow to love the taste of ginger beer and lime and soda and mmm, sparkling water. Yum. Oooo, ice and a slice? Don’t mind if I do. That’s the secret. Dress it up. Make it feel special. Like a treat. Then try to sit back and enjoy it without wondering why it has no ‘kick’ and doesn’t taste as good as your usual tipple.

So, soft drink suggestions please. Alcohol replacements. Mocktails. (What’s the point??) Get me through February at least….

Women IN Comedy Festival

There isn’t really any way to explain the feeling of standing against the wall in a dressing room while stage staff scramble around you looking for more chairs to seat your audience. I had thought I might attract an audience of twelve, maybe sixteen people to my gig at the Women In Comedy Festival. And I would have been happy with that. When I walked out onto the stage at The Kings Arms to about 45 people squidged into the room my heart beat a little faster. I mean, I’ve played to bigger audiences before but this was just so…unexpected. And so lovely. And we had a full hour to enjoy ourselves. Ah, the luxury.
I hadn’t done a full hours show since Edinburgh in 2012 and being on the SAGS tour meant that I hadn’t really had time to rehearse my own show so it seriously felt like I was just going to stand in front of a room full of people and, well, chat about stuff. I do have some material, don’t get me wrong – I’ve got hours and hours of material. I just didn’t know which bits I was going to say in what order! The wonderful BSL Interpreter Katie Fenwick had committed to interpreting the show which also somehow made me feel like I shouldn’t say anything too stupid!
That didn’t seem to stop me though. In fact having Katie on stage with me, and consequently Little Ali from the SAGS who held up cards displaying the lyrics to my songs gave the whole experience a completely different dynamic and led to the most unique performance I have ever enjoyed the good fortune to be part of.
The audience were splendidly rowdy for 6.30pm in the afternoon. I wondered if they had started drinking early as the heckling and joining in became more frequent. Lovely familiar faces like my good old mate Becky who was up from London; Rose, who can remember me performing at ‘A Truly Western Experience’ sometime last century; Annie and Michelle – my ‘forces sweethearts’; brand new mates Sam and Harriet who I met (along with Katie) at this year’s WIT festival and even newer fans that had come to support me having seen previous gigs on the Spreading The Love tour. A special mention goes to Pammie Clinton who came to more gigs than I could count and paid decent money for my old SAGS shirt which meant that I could pay Katie for her trouble and Pammie got a nice new tent.
The Women In Comedy Festival is a truly brilliant festival run by the extremely dedicated and hard working Hazel O’Keefe who also runs Laughing Cows amongst other things. Hazel is great and I missed performing at the inaugural festival last year so it was a real treat for me to be included in this year’s programme. Here’s hoping I’ll be there next year and for many years to come and well done Hazel for putting such a brill fest together.
If I had to give the show a title I think I would have to call it “In conversation with….” because that is how it felt. The audience were so warm and up for it that it really did feel like we were all just having a chat. I told a few gags and they laughed in the right places; I played a couple of songs and they all sang along; I told a few stories – some that I’ve never told before – some that I’ll never tell again – and as I left the stage, strewn with sheets of A4 card printed with song lyrics and cables and empty beer glasses to the sound of cheering and clapping and the sight of my beautiful audience all smiling and waving their hands in a mass of BSL applause I knew that this had most definitely been a one off. A dream gig. A truly wonderful experience.

it ain’t over til it’s over

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.

spreading the love

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….