Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Itself Gone Down

I can be utterly ruined by fear. Paralysed by it. Fear turns my shit to waterfalls, my skin to ants and my personality to a wrecking ball.

I am not a bitch unless I'm afraid. I'm never snappy and rude when I feel safe. When I don't see many choices I feel afraid - when I feel too late or too far down a path to stop or move, when I feel cornered.

I'm scared of so much. I always have been. I think fear is the single most dominating feeling I recognise from my life. Fear of failing and letting people down feeds deep depression, fear of the future and uncertainty throws anxious vomit into the fan powering my life, fear of breaking the rules made me meek, boring and obedient for so long, fear of not being good enough makes me jealous, bitter and resentful.

Fear must have its upsides - fear must make me a bit nicer sometimes because I am scared of hurting people and having them feel like I do. Fear must make me safer crossing roads. I see the point of fear - fear is what drives a species to seek survival. But what to do with this excess of it now I have a lock on my door and a freshwater tap.

I was a gullible, easily-led child. If someone told me a rule you could safely bet your house I was going to follow that rule. I let fear of negative consequences drive me completely. I succeeded at school because I couldn't break the rules by failing, I went to university because that was the best idea apparently, I got jobs to pay the bills and I got on with being diligent. Diligent is such a great fucking word to describe me. A little autobot whose primary response is to say, "Yes, ok - I believe you."

I was so naturally well-behaved and compliant that I never found out how ok it is when you do behave "wrong". I thought the world would stop if I got detention. A "D" on a test was unimaginable:  it couldn't happen because I literally couldn't imagine the consequences of not getting things right. I got right into my twenties before I found out that the consequence of not complying was just another human having an opinion on what you'd done.

Now I am a comedian. I feel like I shouldn't be though... other comedians seem to be these wild, rebellious characters who were born to be anarchic and fight the system. I feel like comedian-by-numbers... the PA who accidentally found a place in comedy. I don't take drugs (young me was told they are bad), I am not late to things or forgetful (that's rude and I mustn't be rude), I follow the golden laws of the industry. I work hard because you're supposed to.

I am a good girl. I look at the rebels and I simultaneously wish I could be like them and they could be more like me. Every time I saw someone succeed because they changed the rules and forged their own path I was gobsmacked and enthralled and enraged because yet again it didn't occur to me that rules weren't real things.

It's strange how my fears have changed since I broke down. In some ways I'm more fearful than ever before and in other ways the sound has been turned down on the peripheral ones. I'm petrified I've made the wrong choice about not having children - will I regret this forever? Have I ruined my life? Will I ever not think about what ifs? Is anyone going to properly step up and solve the climate breakdown? If they do, will I regret not having children even more? If they don't, what is the future going to look like? What am I living for?

Some of the biggest fears I think I could have. Fears that make my ribs icy. Fears that make me need to rub my neck to check for a guillotine. Fears that make me instinctively move about and want to touch someone's skin for comfort.

In other ways, I'm less fearful completely because I just don't give a fuck any more if I'm doing things "right". All that naive, small world girl belief in some intelligence and organisation from the people in charge has died a snivelling little bit part death. The adults have stopped being gods. The teachers and the kings and the parents have turned into just other people with no better idea of what they're doing than I have.

I'm no longer chasing the exceptional ones at the top of the slide. We've all gone down it and here we are in the pond behind the curtain splashing about making it up as we go along.

There isn't a "right". How exciting and terrifying?

I always had this "drive" for my career that I thought was a drive to get somewhere. My eyes firmly pinned on the horizon for this unknown location. That's where I'm driving to. The point of my career is to get over there. Never mind how smooth the driving is on the way - I've got to get to there.

And I think, and maybe it's a blip and a phase and only this week's emotion, but I think... I think now I just want to drive. I was so busy looking at the goal I forgot that I started doing this just for the pleasure of the drive. Because of the wind in my hair. My half a head of hair.

The last year gave me a taste of something nicer than a destination... I got a little flavour of my own ability to create my own style of comedy. I like things when they're nice, and safe and come from a kind place. I found a way to make softness part of what I do and I love that. Instead of aiming for a place, I'm aiming for a style of driving. Because... why not? I can buy back out of the idea of striving somewhere. It was only ever someone's idea. It wasn't definitely the right way to do something.

Work really hard.
Why?
To succeed.
Why?
You need to be financially responsible.
I am financially responsible.
You could have more...
I have what I want.
I guess you can settle.

And settle is a bad word?

 To settle is beautiful. To settle is restful. Settle an argument. Settle down with a cup of tea and a good book. Settlement.

Can I settle now, not because I've stopped dreaming, but because I dream better when I'm settled?

Last night I dreamed my frightened dreams; my husband caught me texting an ex and a pigeon got in my house and turned into a seagull which chased me and when I caught it by the beak it turned into a baby. Those are the dreams that fear induces... when fear drives me I look to all the other comedians to see what they're doing and why I'm not them. I write panicked jokes in the wrong voice, searching for the message I thought I saw in someone else's nomination.

That's why I write best on stage. On stage, I am settled... that's when the games break out and the voices and my "scenes" and the things I'm proudest of in my work. That's when I find my voice - when I'm settled. Not when I'm afraid.

My favourite thing about comedy is that is has a sell-by-date. No matter how big a star someone was, at some point in the future, the comedy will need explaining. Nothing is bulletproof for eternity as appetites, references, timings and tastes change. How marvellous. By all means have a legacy - but know its overall irrelevancy before you chase it to the exclusion of all else.

There's something so delicious about this stage of comedy - to be the anonymous highlight of someone's weekend as they laugh themselves to choking at you and then you slip away back home to put some washing on and they go and forget who you were. No expectations of you, no mantel to carry about. Whether they love or hate you, 99% of the room have forgotten you tomorrow.

That removes the fear, then. When people say "I couldn't do what you do - I'd be too scared." I think... scared of what? Only a very few remember you anyway so why do you care. Eat the best meal of your life and you only remember a vague outline of the flavours on your tongue and the textures through your teeth. It's the same with most comedy... you're left with the ghost of enjoying yourself instead of the details. It's delicious. It stops me being scared.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

For My Mum

My mum isn’t 60. There are some children at school who have old mums, but not my mum.

My mum is young, and beautiful and I don’t really know how old adults are but she’s younger than Dad but older than her sister Kate, I think.

My mum has a long denim skirt, she has cool short hair and she loves Chanel Number 5.

My mum isn’t a bloody taxi service.

My mum sings along to M People and Curtis Stigers in the kitchen.

My mum always does our birthday parties at home and plans homemade games.

My mum is sick of telling us to tidy up our rooms.

My mum loves taking us to buy books before we go on holiday.

My mum loves croissants and wine and swimming pools and us. Most of all my mum loves us.


And suddenly, I turn around and she’s all grown up.

It seems like only yesterday she was letting me stay up late to watch Due South with her

It seems like only yesterday she was letting us think her whole life revolved around us…

Although that seems like only yesterday, I think my mum’s gone and grown up.

Here she is at 60.

And I wonder what she’s going to do next. Now we need her in less time consuming ways, I wonder what she’s going to do next.

I can’t wait to see what she does next.

This woman who raised the three people I love most in the world, if she can do that, what else is she going to do?

My mum is going to carry on being that teacher children hug in the playground.

My mum will be Grandma, whether her Grandsons like it or not.

My mum might find herself a dog…

My mum will keep being an anchor for people at her church.

My mum’s going to be in love.

My mum’s going to come with us to see plays, and musicals.

My mum might find another house to make our home…

My mum will keep making friends with checkout assistants, and shop-girls and, basically, anyone to whom she can chat.

My mum will carry keep making her badminton team a lighter, sillier more inviting place to be.

My mum might learn a new sport…

My mum’s going to play loads more stupid games on her computer.

My mum is going to travel the world… See Sri Lanka and the Caribbean and the sea and the sky.


My mum is all the ages she’s been, while she scraped us off all the walls and floors we fell on. Please don't retire that scraper too soon though, mum, we're going to need that some more.

However old she’s been, she’s been funny and frightened and brave and practical and kind.

And now she is 60.


Thank you for everything you’ve been, mum. We’re so grateful, but mainly, we just can’t wait to see what you do next.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Me and my Donkey

The nature of comedy friendships is tight, short bursts of intensity which spring up like flowers every few months and then return to dormant seeds. We are friends and allies for a night - sharing stories and a microphone before disappearing off to very separate lives and reuniting again in a different theatre somewhere else months down the line.

Most of my green rooms are filled with men, what with comedy still dragging its heels towards anything even close to equal representation. This green room is no different… there’s Chris -Canadian raconteur, Richard - cheeky Brummy live-wire and Ben - a regular JK47. I enter the room and exchange hugs and hellos all round. We sit and wait for the show to begin.

Richard catches my eye across the room just as Ben heads out in search of water and Chris checks his phone for road closures on the route home.

“How’s your baby?” Asks Richard.

I freeze - my smile buffering awkwardly across my cheeks.

In the freeze-frame moment, this is what my imagination has done… it’s very quickly mocked up an image of me holding a newborn - the newborn Richard is asking about - to test whether that is something familiar. A quick fact check suggests I have not had a baby and I am reminded that; I have not had a baby. I have not had a baby and so the Getty Image newborn fades from my grey matter along with it’s fluffy white blanket and the graceful crooked arm of my invented maternal self. I have not had a baby.

“I don’t have a baby.” I say, willing the smile to stay Gentle™ not Manic™. I’m trying to adjust my face so that it’s Quizzical™ without being Defensive™. Trying to remember what Danny Champion of the World’s Dad said about being an Eye Smiler. Are my eyes smiling? I’ve not had a baby.

“Yes you do! Your baby?” For reasons best known to himself, Richard is ploughing on! Baby means Baby. I must have a baby. My mind looks at the facsimile again, and we are forced to conclude that this is not a memory - this is a baby and a life I don’t currently have.

Richard looks so confused - waiting for it to dawn on me, I suppose. He’s waiting for me to slap my forehead and exclaim “Oh, bloody hell! Yeah! That baby! Silly me. Yeah, my baby is fine thanks.”

For a second I wonder whether I should do this… I remember once at primary school when a dinner lady misunderstood a story I was telling her about things I saw on the drive home. Long story short I spent the rest of my primary school years pretending I lived on a farm and keeping her updated on my favourite donkey. I’ve felt guilty about lying to that dinner lady ever since, but really, if you hate confrontation it’s the only choice. A baby is much harder to invent than a donkey though, I reckon. Also, social media didn’t exist back then so there was no need for me to mock up pictures of Donkey and Me having a great time. I look Richard in the eye and decide to take the Awkward™ route.

“Oh, Richard, I really don’t have a baby.” I am firmer, but still Danny’s Dad Eye Smiling. Perhaps I should suggest he has confused me with someone else? Kate Middleton perhaps? She’s extremely fertile. Maybe if I did more charity work or used more expensive shampoo it would happen for me? I bet Kate Middleton never had to pretend she had a donkey.

“No… you did have a baby, didn’t you?” I am full of admiration for Richard’s surety that I am the Duchess of Cambridge. He’s doubling down on his efforts to work out what’s going on, but his mode of discovery is a bulldozer going straight through me. I am definitely not swift enough to avoid the juggernaut. Danny’s Dad’s advice is slipping off my crow’s feet. The front page of Heat magazine is the Duchess of Cambridge’s mud splattered tiara posing with a hired donkey.

“I definitely didn’t Richard. I’ve spent 2 and a half years trying for a baby and not had one.”

There it is. There’s that deluxe multipack of cold awkwardness we ordered. The dump track empties it’s load all over the floor and it’s suddenly very quiet in the room. Only the donkey is vocal, braying from the corner “You twonk - why didn’t you use me? I was wide open!” 

Chris is staring hard at his phone, he must have worked out the status of the A3 by now so I assume he’s moved on to the task of downloading an app for blackhole getaways from awkward situations. I think I can hear Ben’s footsteps outside the room, wondering how long he can stretch the water retrieval task before having to return.

Richard is immediately apologetic… “Oh god, Laura… I’m so sorry.” And other such sentences come tripping out over his immensely sincere lips.

“It’s fine Richard, honestly - obviously just a mix-up somehow. I just did a show about trying for a baby so maybe you saw the poster and got confused.” I’m genuine in my consolations to the poor man… I’ve got quite used to people pushing hard questions on me that have left me making it up to them when they get the answer they didn’t want.

“How long have you been married now… do you ever think about having a family?”
“Gosh, your little sister’s child is 1 now… does it not make you think about having one?”
“You can’t focus on your career forever… so do you just not want kids?”

It’s their small talk and my huge conversation.

I’ve left donkeys up and down the country where I’ve not had the strength that day to tell them what’s really going on. I’ve put on the two piece by Expensive Designer™ and done the royal wave from my tinted windows just to keep the charade going. I’ve done this because wherever I haven’t, it’s been me left apologising. Me making them feel better for having opened my wound.

“I haven’t found out how to have a baby yet because first I ended up close to suicidal over the psychological impact of creating life and then when I got out of therapy and off medication and ready to try, we spent two years with my body not co-operating even though my mind was now on board.”

Silence.

They incessantly ask about the donkey’s eyes, how it’s feeding, how much it’s grown but when I finally stop dodging the question and tell them the damn donkey’s dead they look at me like I dragged the carcass in the room of my own volition. 

I’m left scraping, telling them it’s ok and how could they have possibly known? Why wouldn’t they think it’s ok to continue asking questions about the single most important process a living thing can go through. I pat the back of their hands and smile for the camera - glossing it all over with a squeeze of Pantene.

Ben returns and the conversation steers away into waters much calmer… how are the audience looking, are we going to start on time, are we all feeling match fit? The surface waters of the intermittent comedy friendships are still once again. Frost hasn’t killed these friends-eeds this time. Ben does his set, says his goodbyes and leaves. Chris does his, waves farewell and departs. Richard finishes up, I close the show and we both head out the door… as we leave the theatre he catches my elbow gently and looks at me with absolute regret on his face.

“Laura, I am so sorry.”
“I know, Richard. Please don’t worry. Honestly - it was absolutely fine.”
He smiles and nods sadly, walking away. He’s a lovely guy.

As I drive home with Laura_and_Baby.jpg splashed across the windscreen I make a vow to myself that from now on I can own as many donkeys as I want.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Box of Thumbs and Hearts

The theme of my week has been “social media” - from an unexpected spat with a decade-long-forgotten ex-boyfriend, to a tweet that landed me a front row chair for the “women aren’t funny” parade, to a desperate plea to instagram to refill the little rectangular box of self esteem that is my phone. 

I call it a phone, but really I never phone anyone… I communicate solely by the written word so I can prepare my utterances. I don’t know when voice to voice communication first started to make me feel so boxed in to a corner; I often see text as my saviour, but perhaps the causality is reversed and it’s actually my captor.

My phone is an innocent looking box that when opened can turn out to be jammed full of thumping pink hearts and weird blue thumbs. I open it when I need a glowing rectangle to connect me via lurid icons to the people I am avoiding meeting in flesh and blood. I know it’s vacant and shallow, but damn, sometimes in the sickly orange light of the M25 I look forward to popping it open when I reach my drive way so I can bathe in the apathetic love from these vapidly cultivated symbols.

How easy it is for us to gently scroll our thumb over the “offer positivity” icon and increase someones validation-in-a-circle-number™ for something we will never think of again. For my part as a generator, I’ve significantly contributed to thumb up inflation in my small circle by liberally sprinkling my approval across a large number of posts. I don’t suppose many of them are as addicted to the pixelated thrill of a notification as I am, but in my own way I feel like being generous online is a useless yet nice thing to do.

Generally speaking, I like social media; I am very averse to being alone and have chosen a career that has me riding solo most of the time. I’m the agoraphobic shepherd, the vertiginous window cleaner, the coeliac baker and the unionised CEO.

Social media is a way to constantly have low level company that doesn’t involve me buying a walkie talkie for my husband. He’s very grateful for its existence. I can test jokes, publicise live shows and just… chat… with whoever else is bored at the same time as me. Anywhere in the world. From my uniform hotel room with a million low light lamps and zero illumination I can crowd-source a playlist of upbeat music or chat about a TV show I’m watching as though someone is sat on the bed beside me with popcorn. The icons and symbols I’m sneering at above have all come from real people, with real interaction to offer and to write it off as meaningless because it comes via technology would be to disregard all epistolary novels because they are also simply the product of the best available remote communication at the time.

Just in the time I’ve been writing and rewriting this my phone has been constantly in and out of my hand: I’ve agreed with someone on a book about law I just finished and been able to tell the author how much I liked it, I’ve found video of an American gymnastics meet and welled up watching it, I’ve extolled the virtues of a National Trust membership with an old friend from school. There’s such a glut of the world to find and augment your day with.

I’m too reliant on my phone, and I know that; I take it all too personally. Just this week I politely asked a stranger to be less over-familiar with me when they tweeted me; the winky faces and comments on my appearance with suggestive overtones were just a bit too intrusive time after time. I could have muted or blocked but I thought a reasonable appeal to common sense might work - after all, I was unlikely to be the only one on the receiving end. I was immediately blocked from this person, and whilst, overall, it is going to make no negative impact on my life, for a few minutes afterwards I sat in shame wondering if I was at fault. I wasn’t, and reasonable Laura knows that - but when you allow the meaningless to be your boundless uplift, it follows you’ll allocate it an unreasonable downward pull.

I tweeted something this week about jobs for women in comedy and was immediately confronted with varying levels of disagreement from the predictable usual suspects. Easy to ignore were the simple “women aren’t funny”, harder to walk away from were the blatant misinterpretations of my point dressed up as straightforward explanations. The number of times this week my thumbs have raced over the glass explaining the difference between a “female” and a “female comedian”. When the anger first started trotting in I hovered over deleting the tweet just to cease the vitriol that was now swirling in my living room. I still stood by my tweet, but quite honestly I was physically shaking and not sure I wanted the fight. I sat for a bit and determined that the shaking was stupid. I looked at the likes and retweets in agreement with myself and imagined the reaction as a room full of people: an audience of 150 agreeing politely and about 20 men booing loudly. I kept the tweet up. Muted the moronic and persevered with the debate. Probably overall it was a total waste of my time, but since we developed agriculture what do we have but time, eh? Is this thing on?

On Saturday I went for a day’s shopping in Bluewater to try and find a dress… across 6 or 7 hours I was in and out of fitting rooms and clothes trying on dress after dress. Whilst I appreciate it is the first worldiest of all problems to claim that a day in a sumptuous palace of capitalist hedonism is “exhausting”, there is something curiously draining about repeatedly trying on clothes.The sight of my arse peering out through strained tights as I bent down to pick up a dress - it was a quip to my friends at the beginning of the day. By 6pm I was wondering how this trussed ham had made its way onto the back of body - stowing away like one of Theresa May’s crises and causing irreparable harm to my self-esteem. The constant temperature changes, the impairments to sight and sound as dresses are wriggled over sensory organs, the strip lighting and curtains that aren’t quite wide enough to give you privacy - it’s all a recipe for insecurity and instability.

When I pick up a dress that’s priced over £50 my brain starts a little story for me, it says “Laura, this dress was designed by geniuses and woven out of fabrics invented to compliment the human body. You are going to put this on and the invisible panels constructed by Karen Millen and NASA will whisk the parts of your body you dislike off to another dimension. While you are in this dress you will be 5’10” and won’t have all those fears about owning 2/3s of the world’s eyebrows while some people have none. Your collar bone will naturally pop to a sexy 50s level, and you will have knees made of “firm” instead of “gelatinous”. You will look, not merely “beautiful”, because that could mean any thing, you will look how you imagine you have the capability to look if only you had the money. This dress knows your aims and is made of how to get you there. This dress is rocket fuel.”

I carry the dress lovingly to the fitting room all the time marvelling at the science that must go into making these dresses worth the money. My t shirt comes off over my head causing a flurry of static electricity and ruffle to muss my hair. My skirt comes down leaving the various restrictions of my tights and underwear exposed. There’s an angry red line where my bra rubs my ribs and the mini fold under there is waving happily. Never mind, I think, rubbing distractedly at the strap welts on my shoulders, this dress is designed for these challenges. I am the snow and this dress is the tyre chains.

The dress goes back over my head pulling my fringe into a greasy curtain and smearing the remaining oily sheen of foundation towards my chin where it has gathered in a little orange huddle right by the too-dark hairs on my top lip that this light is determined to celebrate. I locate the under skirt, the second lining, the fluffy bit and the over beading and try to get them all to lie calmly before focusing on the zip. I am not double jointed, an escapologist or a jelly fish so the zip is difficult to get my hands on.

I push the curtain to one side and back out asking a free friend to get the zip for me and she begins. It’s not happening. “It’s not you,” she says, soothingly, “the fit is fine - it’s where the zip crosses the dress pattern. Hang on.” Another friend is called over to hold the material together while another one channels the force and determination of Dwayne Johnson to raise the obtuse zip to its final resting place. My friend is right of course; the dress fits fine and it is the chunky material that’s causing the problem but that doesn’t make the feeling of being a swollen joint any less real. Are other people in the fitting room looking at me and wondering why I am so deluded as to thinking this dress is the right size, how can it need two people to do a zip? But then it is on and it is indeed the right fit; it’s for another blog post to discuss why the right fit is this overtly tight one, but for now; it’s the right fit.

I stand, finally in, breathing awkwardly - feeling ashamed and embarrassed trying to assess the dress in the various mirrors around me. Bizarrely I am still only 5’1” and the science hasn’t worked so a foot of the dress is lying in a puddle around my feet, and the magical panel has done nothing to disguise the downward droop of my gaping tummy button in the stretch of the fabric. My friends have their heads cocked to one side and we are all debating the nicest way to say “not this one darling” and get me back into my clothes. The price tag has meant nothing about the dress; the dress is still only designed for one body, the magazine body, the rare body, not my body. It is not expensive because they have worked tirelessly on how to make it the best it can be for the majority, it is expensive because if you have the body for this dress you will buy it regardless just to show that off. How could you not?

The layers of dress are going back over my head, my old clothes go back on but they don’t feel pristine and carefully chosen like they did this morning when they went on - they feel stretched and crumpled and tired. So do I. We move on to the next shop where the tags will tell me the same lies. And I’ll believe them. How could I not?

In desperation as my sugar levels drop to unacceptable levels and we stop for a coffee and an affirmation of our friendships, I look back at the photo of the nice dress I found. The picture I quite like. The one dress in twenty that I looked back at the photo and felt proud of my lumps.I prepare it for instagram - one quick heroin hit of mood booster. I write something attempting humour in a bubble over the photo to lessen my attention grab’s humiliation and I carefully pose the text down one side of my body to minimise the real estate my hips take up on the screen. Post. A slow dribble of yellow faces with heart eyes, and the lovely beautiful comments from my friends about how great I look are gratefully and sociopathically consumed. I needed that. It’s fructose in place of nutrition but I know it’s not terminal. It’s not the end of days. I’ll have a lovely boost from lovely people right now, and then I’ll probably go away and stew on why I needed such a shallow reaction which will result in a lengthy, verbose blog post that I’ll then post on social media and wait for the appearance or absence of iconised reaction to that before closing my laptop and going to a job where I base my self worth on the binary reaction options of a comedy gig and wonder why approval means so much to me. C’est la vie.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Brooding

It's been a chaotic week... I always enjoy a visit from my siblings and this week I had my grown up sister come and stay. She's the one that always has it sorted (at least on the outside) and is the first arm around you either to hold you back or pick you up depending on which way your mood has swung.

She now has two children - the chalkiest of cheesiest children you will ever meet. One is a quiet, obsessive little thing who loves magic and fantasy and his own company. The other is... well, actually according to everyone he's a little me. He's temperamental and funny and often totally baffled by his own emotional outbursts. It's interesting to watch.

This week they were incoming and I'm always so grateful to them for shoehorning their 2.4 family into our shoebox flat for a cramped but giggle-filled vacation. This week Nephew the First was fascinated by the fact that Brighton is full of flats. He lives in a village in the West Country and doesn't know anyone else who lives in a flat - he thinks it's amazing that we live in a "pile of people". Amazing is one word my little innocent.

The only down side this week was that I couldn't shift my gigs around to be about in the evenings so I had to pop up to London and work after bedtime.

Monday night I popped up to MC a show and came back a little rattled... I won't go into details but, it takes a lot to make me feel insecure on stage. I've been threatened whilst on stage, put in a head lock by a man after a gig (yes, really) shouted at for something another act said and generally dealt with everything comedians deal with at some point during their careers. Comes with the territory, right? Well, except the headlock. That was over the line. But, Monday... Monday rattled me because it came from acts not the audience and the nature of the show meant I wasn't in my usual position of power to deal with it in the way I normally would.

NOTE: I dealt with the show brilliantly and the whole spectacle for the audience was fine, ok? So if any part of you is tempted to message me in some way to tell me that if I can't handle it then I shouldn't do it... I did handle it, ok? Handling it like a professional at the time and then admitting you felt things about it as a person afterwards are two separate things.

To admit I was rattled and to be admitting it now is a HUGE thing for me. In my head now the business manager is trying to get a memo to my fingers saying "don't type this - it won't go well." Reasons the brain business manager is suggesting are:
"If the booker reads this they won't book you again." which then translates to "if the booker reads this, they might not book a woman again." Because, I was the first woman to do this show EVER and so that's an absolute tonne of pressure that anything I say or do has an effect on a whole swathe of people being considered for it again. Maybe I'm inflating my own importance (probably - hell I'm a millennial comedian, when am I not eh?) but that's a little bit how it always feels.

Self employed = shut up or it'll be harder to get work.
Self employed woman = shut up or it'll be harder for women to get work.

So, Tuesday morning I'm feeling a little wobbly but thinking to myself I'll just let it sit for a bit until it settles. Distance will help and I'll throw myself into being an Aunt. When one persona doesn't feel right put a different one on.

That's when the projectile vomiting begins. A tummy bug rampages through both nephews and Wahaca cod tacos are flying everywhere.

Nephew the First learns an important lesson about living in a flat; when someone vomits spectacularly in it, there is nowhere to hide from the smell. When two small people with impeccably bad aim vomit in 4 out of the 5 rooms then it's best to burn the building down and move to a new continent.

The poor little mites are lying still, trying to keep fluids down and I'm trying to find bits of guacamole in the hinges to the loo seat. There's a knock at the door.

"Hello?"

"Hi!" The man's nose wrinkles at what appears to be 6 people living in a two bedroom flat that they are mainly using for vomit storage. "I'm from the management company for the building."

Hey! Nephew the First - here's another cool thing about flat life, there are so many people making a living from not dealing with your damp!

"Right, ok?" I'm vaguely wondering whether there is vomit dripping into the downstairs neighbours flat already and I am about to be evicted.

"We've had an alert from your downstairs neighbour..." Oh crud. How did tortilla get through the floorboards? "... about some pigeons nesting. Have you noticed them?"

Oh. I wasn't expecting that. My chest tightens, and not in the good "I look mid-20s way".

"Yes. Yes, there are some pigeons." Nephew the Second releases a rainbow of dry cream cracker somewhere in the distance.

"Are they on your balcony?"

"Yes, they are."

"Do you mind if I come and have a look?"

"At my pigeons?"

"Are they yours? Are you keeping domestic pigeons?" He sounds concerned, but it could be fear.

"No! No... they're just... they're just wild pigeons. Not mine." On the horizon of the living room, a fruit winder goes flying upwards into a hastily provided waste paper bin. I shut the door.

I show the man through the flat - look Nephew the First, so many people can just come through your home when you rent a flat?! If we weren't here he has keys!

The man looks at the pigeons on the balcony.

"Have you reported them?"

"No." I say, "I don't mind them."

I more than don't mind them. I'm very attached to them.

"Do you feed them?" He asks.

"No." I say, casually kicking a crust of bread off the side of the balcony.

We return to the hall as fresh waves of flat lemonade parade past the tonsils of my favourite little people.

The man turns in his trench coat and gives me a card. "We need to deal with the pigeons. Someone will be in touch about putting in pigeon spikes as soon as these babies have left the nest. We legally can't do anything while they're raising young but the second the babies have gone we need to clear this up. You need to phone us when you see the chicks fly, ok?"

I nod and promise I will. He leaves.

I go into the living room and tell my sister what the man wanted and I'm surprised to find myself struggling not to cry. I blame the watering eyes on the bile haze acting like a smoke screen across the room and look fondly at my poor grey boys lying wanly on a blanket that I will never touch again.

I'm furious. Why can't they live there? What harm are they doing? Yes, there is some poo. Poo washes off. They aren't causing any structural damage and there are precious few trees left for birds to nest in so if not buildings where are they going to go?

The human resources manager in my brain is quietly suggesting this might not be an entirely rational response to being told some wild pigeons need to stop shitting all over your once beautiful balcony. The HR voice is trying to imply that maybe, the pigeons have become a bit of a no human baby placebo. Especially this week when looking at how beautiful your sister's family unit is, it's probably difficult realising the closest you have to that are these birds that fly away as soon as you open the door? HR voice pushes a pamphlet towards me about how being told they must go has probably hit the nerve of environmental guilt and fear that's chiming well with feeling powerless off the back of the wobbly gig. The main stupid voice in my brain is shouting "NO IT'S NONE OF THAT THANKS I ACTUALLY LOVE THE PIGEONS AND THAT MAN WAS EVIL AND THAT'S ALL THIS IS ABOUT."

I think about Nephew the Second angrily insisting he is not tired, and that the reason he threw a shoe at his Dad was well founded and nothing to do with the aforementioned sleepiness. I hope for his sake he stops being like me well before his thirties.

I stomp about for two days. Furious. Loading nephews into cars to go home and sleeping bags into washing machines to try and find the last of that smell. I continue stomping. I stomp around returning the flat to it's usual state: very little clutter, I don't like clutter. Do I?

More gigs pass; more ins and outs of a flat that slowly stops smelling like vomit. I remove the traces of a nephew infestation. It's a nice flat - I keep it very tidy. Because I don't like clutter do I?

Tom leaves for four days away and the flat is very quiet. WhatsApp brings me pictures and chatter and I don't really notice that I only talk to pigeons and audiences.

On Thursday, I go to have a look at the nest. Interesting fun fact, pigeons don't actually nest - they just lay an egg and then shit all around it in a vaguely nest shape. Eventually the nest shape fades as they just shit everywhere and live in a whole sea of shit. I suppose I hadn't really noticed the shit. I was looking at the pigeons.

It'll be nice to have the balcony back I suppose. No more vomit in the flat, no more shit on the balcony. I suppose everything's easier and cleaner without complications isn't it? That's good. I don't like clutter, do I? Focus on work and stuff. Productivity will go through the roof. The big brain boss will be delighted.

As I stepped out on to the balcony the parent birds flew off. Followed by one baby pigeon. And, hesitantly, the second. You bastards. I wasn't ready for you to go. Now I have to phone and tell the management and you can't live here any more.

I made the call. I explained I'd seen both the babies flying and that if they wanted to come and wash the "nest" off then I have some days off next week and they're welcome. I told them I refused to have spikes - that was too far. A net maybe. But no spikes. They say they will hurry along to get it cleared up before they start the next brood. I hung up. I felt empty and guilty.

I pop up to London and do a gig for an IVF charity - I see the lady who was the very first IVF baby do a speech and I think about how desperate people are for mess in their lives. How much we need to be clearing up messes to feel full. I think about the messy gig that made me feel wobbly... how much stronger I feel with two days distance, how I've already said I want to do it again because next time I'll wobble that little bit less. How I've found different messes to tidy. How I still want another little mess, maybe. Do I? Do I want clutter?

Friday morning dawns. Tom is still away. I get up and go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea - the mug goes down on the clean sideboard and everything is in its place. It's a beautiful Brighton morning, I unlock the balcony door to feel the cold air and look at my chicks. The chicks are gone - off enjoying their wings. Mother bird is standing triumphantly up to her knees(?) in the shit of her children, partner and her own motherly ass. She looks me in the eye, a little bit judgey - does she know I made the call? She might - the walls in flats are very thin. She doesn't - she's a bird. She steps to the edge of the balcony and flies away because she isn't my family she's terrified of me.

I survey the waves of shit - white, grey, black, green, yellow - all the colours of the shitbow spread like an ocean across my once pristine balcony. How did I not notice this building up? It's disgusting. I look at the spot where the mother bird had been standing, and there - perfect pure white amongst the pebble dash is a brand new egg. The second my eyes settle on this beautiful, oval stay of execution I realise why you never see the shit.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Two Humps One Motherboard

Recently I went to Dubai and had four days of rest time in the middle of the tour. Terry Pratchett has a wonderful series of books about tiny gnomes, and in this book he explains that "the faster you live the more time stretches out, it's all a sort of relativity."*

I am smaller than most adult humans, and I firmly believe that my attention span runs in accordance with Pratchett's laws concerning time. I need approximately one day of rest time every three weeks. Less than that and I loathe myself and the world, more than that I begin to climb the walls.

Four days off in a hotel without my people and my comforts and a strong idea of something I could pop out and do was too much for this gnome.

I decided to take myself on an adventure; a terrible, tacky, touristy adventure to a Nature Reserve in the UAE where I could sample the delights of Emirate culture along with 150 other people and neatly packaged into a 3 hour window. Pretty perfect.

On the drive out I was the only one in our pick-up car travelling alone so I got the front seat next to our driver Salim, who, as a born and bred Dubai native, began to happily tell me all about the sights and sounds of Dubai and the suburbs as we left civilisation and drove into the desert.**

Salim pointed out all the sights: "Those are flamingos, that's the tallest hotel in the world, that's modern slavery dressed up like progress." All the sights of Dubai.

Then we passed the camel race track and my mind boggled at the amount a good camel will go for. Turns out I would even be underachieving were I a camel rather than a human. I listen avidly to all facts about the camels and the races and the culture and then Salim slips in this little nugget of information...

"Of course, they don't have human jockeys any more - they have robots to ride the camels."

There is a short pause while I process this information and I flare up slightly... "No way? I call bullshit. Just because I'm a naive woman, travelling alone you think you can feed me this bull and I'll just sit there nodding and lapping it up? No."

He's still going, "The humans drive around in an inner track controlling the robots from the cars."

No, no they don't. Yes, obviously I’m stupid enough to have paid you for this trip to see “the real Arabia”™ circa a white person watching Aladdin in 1992 but I’m not going to believe everything you say.

The rest of the evening progresses beautifully... I lose a shoe in some sand, make friends with a Chinese couple who both sell lifts. Yep. I try and pose for a sunset selfie alone while all the men take photos of their girlfriends leaning back on the tops of the dunes. I do worry for this generation that entire relationships are going by without a single photo of the male portion of the relationship being recorded. But that's not my worry; I don't think my husband has ever stopped in his tracks to record my moments of grace and beauty. He is normally looking for a wet wipe to help me get the ice cream out of my hair.

I return to the hotel that evening and graze around on the internet for a bit before my mind returns to camel jockeys and I type it out and hit search. To be confronted by picture upon picture of tiny robots in jockey outfits sitting confidently betwixt two humps and awaiting their day in the perpetual sun.

Huh.

I firmly believe we are all about 10 years away from losing our jobs to some kind of robot, I just don't think jockeys ever suspected they'd be first in line.

What an awful meeting that must have been... to be called into the Race Manager's office.

"We've got to move with the times... I'm afraid, from now on we're going to be racing with robots."

"Oh hey, no, that's ok... I can ride a robot... I'm sure once I get used to it..."

"No, sorry - you've misunderstood... the camel is keeping it's job - it's you that's got to go."

To be less employable than a camel?
To belong to a species that has written itself out of something it invented for its own pleasure and exhilaration?
To be such a lazy species that we've written ourselves out of a sport where WE WEREN'T EVEN THE ONES RUNNING?

Makes you proud to be a human, doesn't it?

First they came for the jockeys and I didn't speak out for I am over 5'5"***

I like to believe the dole queue that week was just check out assistants and jockeys looking dismayed... a sea of older woman who loved a natter and a bag pack sitting looking forlorn amongst the feline men and women of previous racing fame.

"One day I just came in to work and there was... an unexpected item in the bagging area. A fucking robot. Between my humps. My humps! My humps! My humps! Replaced just because we're heavier than aluminium."

"We were replaced just because Tesco are a sack of shits and Sue often stole from the till. It's awful."

"We can't believe robots took our jobs."

A lonely cigarette raises its head in the corner, "Me neither doll face. We thought we were invincible."


Robots have snuck into every area of our lives, replacing jobs - yes. Also, freeing up people and time and energy to invent new things, new jobs and new ideas for the future as technology has always allowed.

Not all these robots, however, are doing a better job. I certainly don't remember in days gone by handing a load of £10 notes to a human cashier and having her accept 6 of them only to look at me, baffled, and hand 4 back saying,

"I'm sorry, I don't know what these are."
"They're £10 notes, just like the other ones."
"Are they though? Maybe you could just smooth down the corners?"
"Yeah, sure ok, here you go."
"Ok, I'll take these two but I still don't know about these two. Have them back."
"What if I give them to you the other way up?"
"Dunno try it."
"Here you go."
"Yeah, ok. I'll take one of them now but what the hell is this other one?"
"Take it."
"No."
"Take it."
"No."
"Take it."
"Oh look a £10 note! Great, I'll bank that for you."











* Do read The Bromeliad Trilogy if you haven't already and my apologies if I'm teaching you to suck those quail nuggets Grandma.

** We'll discuss at a later date to what extent I truly believe Dubai to be civilised.

*** Obviously I am not and was therefore at the picket line speaking out.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Egg Layer

I had the dream childhood; just hard enough that people still seem to like me now I'm an adult, but so easy that I never would have believed how much effort went into keeping my days breezy.

I grew up in the middle of Somerset; fields to the side and back of the house and estate of cycleable roads and playwithable children to the left. Pubs that could be worked in come my teenage years and plenty of villagers to nod at whilst walking the dog.

Nodding took on several meanings as I progressed through childhood... in the early days the nod meant "Yeah, you're damn straight I have a dog" then it progressed through several different incarnations of dog-nods from "Yeah, I can't believe my lazy ass parents make ME, a child, a prodigy waste my time of walking this furry shit-machine either" to "I'll nod at you but you really need to get a life, you're friends of my parents don't act like you know me" to finally "This nod is going to really mean something to you when I've gone away to University and become a famous actress."

I was always above my station.

Nowadays when I go back there is no dog left to walk, Caspar our golden retriever ate one sock too many (true story: you always knew which shits were his up the field because they'd have one of your best socks curled through it) and bit it about a decade ago. Now when I pop back the only option is to maybe walk mum; easier in that I rarely have to port a bag of her offerings around the block, harder because she has opinions on more than lamp posts and other dogs. If I ever have to manage a nod to someone on one of these walks you can be sure my inner monologue is "How are you still alive?! I left YEARS ago..."

The highlight of my childhood memories are the holidays... I am one of four children and every year come redundancy or high water we would be loaded into a car, top box bursting and tent at various stages of decomposition and carted off to some form of escape.

As I understand it, my early years were dominated by trips to the Caribbean and the Mediterranean but then my gluttonous parents decided that two angels were not enough and they bred two more... significantly reducing the luxury of our trips but greatly increasing the chances for excitement. Not that I really remember the beaches of St Lucia or the bays of Turkey... the one thing I can recall is having to have my hair braided at kids club and being utterly condescending about the ridiculous of the whole affair.

Looking back now as the wannabe liberal, left loving person I've attempted to become I'd like to try and claim that my reticence for corn rows was based on a desire to not culturally appropriate and not to use someone else's culture as my whimsical fashion statement. In reality, I think it just fucking hurt and I was annoyed that my sister had already cried off it and so I was stuck in the chair to save my mum's blushes at having two awfully behaved daughters.

Our family holidays soon gravitated to boats; a life long passion of my father's and something we all learned to yearn for. We would spend a week on a little watery caravan pottering up and down various rivers and canals in France - pulling in to small villages just in time for them to shut for whichever local holiday that day was (in reality I think they just enjoyed pissing off nob-head tourists by closing the shutters whenever someone with a guide book strolled into town) and begging my Dad to let us steer.

About three times a day Dad would need a beer or a wee and so the steering of the boat would be left to one of us. Whichever one it was would sit in the drivers seat looking piously at the others and pitying their total lack of competence. That was until the nose of the boat gently edged into the river bank and the cold sweat would appear instantly right the way down the back. Dad would reappear with a beer in one hand (regardless of whether he'd gone for a pee or a beer) and a small cigar in the other and try to coax us back into a straight lane with some encouragement, guidance and passive aggressive comments on our ineptitude at boat driving. One can only assume that by 8 he was Nelson.

Once the driver child in question was safely in tears and despondent at the idea of driving they would release the wheel back to Dad and he could resume his holiday. As a child I remember worrying that holidays were not fun for Dad; he just had to sit there steering the boat drinking beer and no one was allowed to talk to him much in case he couldn't concentrate. The man is a genius.


Last year we all went on holiday again. Unfortunately we were missing one sister, who has, one can only assume spurred on by the popularity of Game of Thrones, gone to live in the wild. They claim to have a house and cars and roads and things but I have looked on a map as to the location of their village in the Scottish Highlands and I refuse to comprehend how late night food deliveries and other such essentials arrive.

Since childhood we have now gained husbands and the next generation... they were all loaded in too. Minus my husband because he was working and my next generation because they do not exist. I needed to rewind the clock; I needed to feel that the world I used to know still exists somewhere hidden under a layer of decisions I now have to make and consequences of decisions I didn't make well enough. I thought if brie could still taste the same when eaten with trembling, exhausted post-swimming pool fingers, and air beds still went down in the night and pine needles still got everywhere despite your best attempts to brush your feet off before you went in the tent then... then what? I don't know. Then I was still living in the same world; it had all happened, and I could still be happy.

I bought an inflatable crocodile and orca on eBay, I got myself a camping chair and I booked a ferry and a campsite that looked like the past. My past. Off we went... I was loaded into the back of my sister's car with her two children... two little boys who were utterly furious with me for not being my husband but delighted because I have an inferiority complex and was therefore trying to make them love me by outshining my husband in the fun stakes. I failed but they let me try.

We put up a tent in the crushing rain, I argued with my mother, she argued back, we played cards into the bug filled night and we searched for gluten free food for my sister amongst the very few French words we could string together.

"Sans... what the fuck is gluten? Gluteene? Sans Glootin? Sans *mimes stomach ache*?"

Day after day of this holiday kept happening and I was having two different times; a time that was magical; a time that I knew I would always look back on fondly. Watching my one nephew spend the day wearing ear defenders and playing chess; refusing to come swimming or join in anything because he's 8 that 8 year olds are weird. Watching my other nephew come flying out of a tent shouting and wetting himself because he was weirded out by this prospect of predicting your pee in time to get to the toilet block. 14 is no age to go camping for the first time. I'm just kidding; he's 5.

The other time I was having was... hollow though. This wasn't right, was it? Sure - all the components of my childhood memories were there but I was different. I felt panicked and frightened all the time that I wasn't doing it right; I wasn't making the memories properly. I was shit now. Am I shit now? Has France and inflatables and everything stayed the same and it's me that's wrong? That's a route I'm scared to explore for long.

And then one evening, I found the clearing in the wood where the two paths converged. The nephews were grumpy and my brother was drunk and my sister and her husband were cross.

"Let's play 1, 2, 3, and in."

I think it was my idea but I'm sure family legend stated that we by now all think it was our own idea.

"What's 1, 2, 3 and in?" My brother the IDIOT asks.

"You know," I said, "Like hide and seek but you have to get back to the base and tag yourself in..."

"Oh!" He says, "You mean 40/40 in?"

My brother is 10 years younger than me and, it turns out, generations of children (much like regional herds of cattle) have slight variations to the way they speak. The very same game will have a million different names and variations as it spawns across years and counties.

We played. First we played on the empty plot by our tent... each running and chasing and hiding and laughing. It began to entertain the nephews; us playing a 1, 2, 3 and In Lite in order to patronise and occupy them but it soon turned into an all out war between the adults that delighted the children even more than the game set up to pander to them.

Footwear was exchanged for items with a more competitive grip on the foot and pretty soon we were all in agreement that we'd "completed" the game in this area of the campsite and a further challenge was required. We were off to the park.

There we were; four adults ages 21- 34 slamming round a childrens park with a 5 and an 8 year old losing their minds over what appeared to be happening.

"I'm not sure we should be doing this" says my wonderfully socially conscious brother in law, "it might be offputting for actual children who want to play here? The park is meant for them."

I looked over at the line of curious looking french children who were peering out from the edge of the park. They looked back at me. Feeling more self-conscious than I've ever felt before, conscious of being too old to be doing this in every possible sense of the phrase; I waved.

"Vous joue avec... us?" My half-baked sign language and I asked. The children looked to their leader; the older girl who looked like she'll be taller and more competent than me but July this year. She looked at them and let out a stream of the language I had so viciously mocked.

"We would love to; thank you."

And with that we had 5 little extras added to our game. No rules needed explaining; they'd been watching. They got it. "Un, deux, trois et ici" (None of us could for the life of us remember "in") had begun.

I felt not shit.

"Tell them off for egg laying!" My brother shouts, in response to the smallest French girl hanging around the base just waiting for us to peak out.

"Oh piss off, what the hell is "egg layer" in French?" I shout back.

"Oeuf! Oeuf is egg!" says my triumphant sister sprinting towards the bench that counts for the "maison".

"Couche d'oeuf! Couche d'oeuf! Pas de couche d'oeuf!" is our best approximation and we launch it at the baffled children who continue to giggle and run around with these laughing adults and their two little boys.

I felt really not shit.

By the time the light faded and the French parents began ambling across to find out where their children were and take them home to their first night of sleep with their own new family holiday memories in, we had 14 French children whisked in to our game.

I lay down on my combination of air bed and the French countryside that counted for mine and felt really, really not shit. I was sun burnt and tired; full of paella and a weird basil cheese we'd paid too much money for at a market. I'd played in a park with my brother and sister and some random French children we couldn't speak to but had played a game with; it was just like the past. The relief at still being someone other people want to play with... my god it was like a shower after sunshine or a kiss on the top of the head. The relief that, as a team; we still got it. I cried for the best reasons that night.

The next day I nod to lots of people on the campsite as I walk a furiously hopping 5 pee filled five year old to the toilets, "Yeah, that's right; I still got it. Probably still can't drive a boat but me and my sister are the ones your kids want to play with".