On the Fringe of Success?

It’s the eve of the Edinburgh Fringe, the biggest arts festival in the world. I write this from a hotel room in Kendal, as the journey to Edinburgh from Nottingham, with 2 young kids, 2 gold fish, a roof box and a suitcase of dreams was a stretch too far to complete in one go. (By the way, we did drop the gold fish off 5 minutes into the journey. They’re holidaying with the grandparents.)

This journey is the culmination of a year of planning, writing, rehearsing, previewing and shelling out shit loads of cash to stay in the smallest, habitable flat you can possibly find for a family of 4, and quite frankly, I’m rather excited!

Edinburgh holds a special place in my heart, notably because I’ve spent quite a few of my summers there over the last 10 years. My eldest daughter knocked her front tooth out in the Pleasance Courtyard in 2013, at the age of 3. Four years of toothless smiles on photos followed, staring back at us like some weird Edinburgh souvenir. And my husband, Scott, cut his comedy festival teeth that year doing the Big Value Show for Just the Tonic.

The first time you visit the festival as a punter, you realise very quickly what a special place it is. So much to see, in fact, TOO much to see. We can easily spend a whole day on Prince’s Street watching the street performers, soaking up the atmosphere, and sometimes soaking up the puddles into our shoes too. But the weather doesn’t put you off. Everyone and everything carries on regardless, come rain or shine. In fact, they say you can see four seasons in one day in Edinburgh, and I think that is quite true.

As the wife of a comic, (WAC for short. All the glamour and showbiz of a WAG, but a bit more Primani than Armani), I am in the privileged position of seeing the other side of the coin. The “behind the scenes – back stage pass” to the blood, sweat and tears that goes into each labour of love that is an Edinburgh show. When Scott said he was bringing another show to Edinburgh, I wasn’t surprised. It had been 3 years since his last show (About a Roy), so I knew this comedy Mecca would be calling to him soon. This comedy rite of passage. We discussed Scott going on his own, and the fact that it would be FAR more cost effective, but I knew he’d miss the kids, as well as my ability to keep his feet firmly on the ground, so a family excursion was once more on the cards.

Me and the kids (well the eldest at least, the youngest hasn’t got a Scooby what’s going on!) were so excited at the prospect of going to the Fringe again! When I tell people who haven’t been before, how much there is for kids to see and do, they are always pleasantly surprised. Edinburgh is a fantastic hive of activity and entertainment. We never get bored, and when we want some time out from the hustle and bustle, a picnic (to keep costs down of course) and a visit to the park are the perfect escape.

But even with the excitement of all that is to come, and the prospect of a fantastic family holiday, I know that for Scott and other performers, the Fringe isn’t quite the same. Firstly comes the months of crafting new jokes, new material nights and then the previews. The honing of hours of writing, fine tuning the stories and their delivery, and trying to find that bit of pathos that might bag a good review – “Edinburgh needs a story, darling!” Then there is the stamina that is needed to perform 26 shows, pretty much on the trot. The flyering (is that a verb?) The extra performances to get yourself out there. The mingling and networking, because you never know who you might meet. The social media presence – being on your Twitter A game! No wonder Scott seems a bit edgy as we drive up the M6.

As much as I love the Fringe, I feel very protective of what it might do to Scott. I don’t want the beast to chew him up and spit him out. “Hey guys, let’s just enjoy it, yeah. It’s just a festival, okay?”. I keep seeing lots of comics recommending shows they think people should go and see via Twitter, and lots of self-depricating cynicism, “hey we’ll all hate each other by week 3!”. But I think it’s great that comics are backing each other, and I think it’s totally necessary. It’s a way of saying, let’s do this, I’ve got your back. A virtual group hug. A cyber pat on the back. That camaraderie is invaluable to comics. Of all the art forms, I still think stand up is one of the bravest things a performer can do. With comedy, the feedback from the audience is so immediate. Not like when someone performs a song, and the social norm and etiquette is to clap at the end, whether you liked it or not. If you don’t laugh throughout an hour of comedy, each moment of tumble weed silence, can be like kryptonite to the comedy mojo of a comedian. I also know how important the reviews are to comics, although I really wish they weren’t. No matter how well things are going, somehow your success at the Fringe is the bread and butter of what’s to come. Critics are the OFSTED of the comedy world. No matter how good I think Scott’s show is (I’ve listened to a recording of it, haven’t seen it yet), or how positive the responses he has had during his previews, I know a shitty review could floor him like a dodgy pint and kebab. So, we had the talk. Between Lancaster and Kendal on the M6. The one where I say no matter what happens, we think you’re the bollox (with an “x”!) You’ve written a show that you enjoy performing, and that is true to you. You have had some great feedback. If all else fails, we love you, and are proud of you.

So Edinburgh, bring it on. We love your unpredictable weather; your tacky Christmas souvenir shops that we always have to buy from….in August; your beautiful green spaces; your extortionate holiday let prices and your wonderful festival with the most talented and wonderful performers I have ever seen. Edinburgh, we love you. But if you dare screw my husband over, I’ll, I’ll …….be back next year. Same time? Same place?

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I can’t say goodbye!

Sunday morning. 9:34am. Sat on the train Birmingham bound. Sooooo excited! However,  to get to this point has been somewhat a challenge, and any parents reading this will certainly give a reassuring nod of acknowledgment as my mornings escapades unfold. 

My morning began as it does most mornings, with an arm that is numb and half dead because it has been cupped around my 1 year old above my head for the previous 3 hours. I normally have to perform a sideways commando roll off a single mattress onto her bedroom floor, where I’ve been hanging on by a butt cheek most of the night trying desperately to get a few hours of anything that resembles sleep. I did have a few weird dreams (another blog perhaps), so I know I slept, but they were interspersed with me trying to resuscitate my arm, breastfeeding my daughter, trying to creep out of said child’s bedroom like a ninja, and playing musical beds with my own and the crack-den mattress in the nursery! I did manage to warm my ice cold feet on my husband’s legs at one point, much to his delight.

Once out of the bedroom, I have those precious few minutes to dive in the shower to revive myself. This is of course shortlived,  as through blurred vision due to shampoo suds in my eyes, I can see a little person through the door of the shower, her face and hands pinned tightly to the glass. If she could talk, she’d have said “Nice try. You thought you could escape me. I heard the water, so knew what you were up to. If you don’t get out of that shower in 5 seconds, I’m gonna scream the place down”. As she can’t talk, I just got an annoying ugh ugh sound that she has adopted to get my attention. It’s very effective, I hear it was used during the second world war as a form of torture.

The shower is followed by me trying to get dressed, dry my hair and brush my teeth, all with daughter in my arms. I end up looking like I’ve been assaulted by a tube of Aquafresh whilst getting dressed in a wind tunnel. But at least the kid has stopped with the ugh  ugh sound! 

To actually get out of the house whilst causing minimum stress and disruption requires extreme covert procedures carried out by husband and wife. My husband is extremely good at acting as a decoy. Several silly faces and noises are employed to convince my daughter that she would rather be held by him than me. A then rather lengthy stand in front of the coffee machine is used while I escape out of the door. (Apparently coffee machines are thrilling to watch).

So while I drive to the station I realise I’ve forgotten my book, forgotten to paint my nails, I’ve had no breakfast or coffee from the aforementioned machine,  I have a huge compulsory blob of toothpaste on my top (why does this always happen???), and my heart rate is through the roof….but I’m out. 

The worst thing about this whole covert operation is that I can’t say goodbye to my children. If I say goodbye, my cover is blown. When my husband goes out, he gets kisses and cuddles. We stand at the door waving him off like he’s off to war! He gets the big send off. If I’d said goodbye, I’d still be at home. I’d have a crying child hanging around my neck! (The 6 year old is not so bothered anymore). But this is no time to feel sorry for myself, I have a lot to be grateful for. If I hadn’t forgotten my book, I wouldn’t have written my blog. Plus I’m now on my way to a spa day with my good friends – eeeek! And if anything, this whole rigmarole let’s me know that the bond between me and my children is so strong, I know my cuddles and kisses will be waiting for me when I get home.

Buy local…or else!

A friend once said to me “thank god they’ve closed down, I don’t have to feel guilty every time I walk past!”. It really made me laugh, mainly because I knew exactly what she meant. She was talking about a little shop that had opened near us about a year before. It sold little nik-naks and gifts, candles and the like. And now it was no more, another moribund local business, another budding entrepreneur who had fallen by the wayside. You often hear people talk of buying local in an effort to support local businesses, to give your high street a buzz of variety and to stop the endless reign of tired, empty retail units making a town look half finished or severely delapidated. I’m always slightly sceptical when it comes to the buy-local-drum-bangers, I’m never sure if they actually put their money where their mouths are. I mean, what normal Joe Bloggs has the cash to afford such luxuries, when a cheaper and more convenient option is always on offer? If you’re anything like me, or indeed my friend, a guilty conscience and innate sense of awkwardness means that I’m always going to buy local. And maybe that’s what these businesses rely on. It’s not necessarily that I need to buy anything from them, but more a case of me worrying that they won’t be able to feed their kids, or they might lose the house if I don’t buy that handmade, overpriced candle…..every week.

You do have to question some people’s business sense. Who draws up a plan to open a tiny shop, which sells a tiny selection of ridiculously overpriced gift ideas, in a location that has hardly any footfall, but hopes to run a viable business? The sort of shop that is so sparse, that if you dare to venture inside, the silence and hopeful stare of the owner who is perched behind the till forces you to make an unwanted purchase, just to end the awkwardness of leaving empty handed! This isn’t buy local, this is buy bully

On the other hand I’m flying the flag for the local shops. They’re living the dream…kind of. They had a dream to be the king of their own castle, to have a lovely little place that is theirs, to be their own boss and stick it to the man! Why not?! Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I mean, people might want mountain memorabilia and paraphernalia in the middle of a little suburban nook. They might. And they might want so much of it, that the owners will soon be selling the business on for a small fortune, retiring to a sunny villa somewhere, to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Or, the to let sign will be going up once more, and my guilty conscience and my empty purse can have a rest for a while.

When is it midlife O’clock?

Happy bloody new year. It’s freezing, the Crimbo lights are down, and what’s more, I think I’m having a midlife crisis. Or is it just the January blues? Why does January make us question what we’re planning on doing for the next day, week or year? New diet, new career, new resolutions. New pressure more like! Everyone just calm down! It’s just another day, new year, same shit. Ok, ok, I’m not that down in the dumps, but the new year does always bring with it a certain amount of self analysis, a time to reflect on what we did last year, and to think about how we might want to improve on things this year. (Like writing more than 3 posts for my blog in one flaming year!). Things we never got round to last year, are hopefully going to be achieved this year. 

I was talking to a good friend this week about how much I’d love to extend the house (exciting stuff, I know, bear with..), as every Tom, Dick and Harry was having an extended this, or an open-plan that, and our 3 bed semi had suddenly started to feel like we’d outgrown it. But without the financial means, there’s about as much chance of me getting an extended kitchen as there is Donald Trump becoming president….oh wait….The point being, it ain’t happening. Following this realisation comes the overwhelming feeling of disappointment. I might even be tempted to roll around on the floor, bang my fists and shout “not fair, want one!”. When did I suddenly become so entitled? Probably when I left university in 2001, with my degree and an overwhelming sense that I was now owed a living and a certain high flying salary to boot. 

16 years on, and I’ve come to realise that I’m part of a generation that used to think “one day I’ll be rich, one day I’ll have the dream job, and the dream house”. The reality is that most people are just trying to make their way through life comfortably, i.e without mountains of debt. Any savings you manage to amount are a Brucey bonus. 

There have been numerous books written about this so called “destination-happy” generation, that we’ll feel content once we get on holiday, once we get that 64″plasma screen TV, once we get that white, big, 4×4 type car that everyone seems to be driving. We are the generation who want it now, and we have the credit to get it. When I was younger I remember we didn’t have carpet on the stairs for a number of years, and I have the splinter scars on my bum to prove it! But never did my parents feel under pressure to buy carpet or embarrassed about the fact their house lacked carpet, because they couldn’t afford it, and that was that. It wasn’t that that they didn’t have aspirations, or indeed that consumerism didn’t exist, but the option to borrow wasn’t there, so you waited. And waited. I’m sure my parents didn’t feel they had failed in any way, and they always seemed happy with their lot. 

For some reason our generation seems to be more guilty than ever for wanting to “keep up with the joneses”. We constantly compare ourselves to our peers, and measure ourselves against their success, rather than congratulating ourselves for achieving what really matters in life. Things like having a roof over our heads, a loving partner, and healthy, happy children. Instead of worrying about what car I’m driving this year, I’m going to focus on being the best mum I can be to my children, something that money can definitely not buy, and a resolution worth sticking to.

So I married a mobile phone…..

This blog isn’t here to point the finger at my husband, or any other unsuspecting husbands out there, but to merely comment with wonderment at what we’ve come to in 2016. It really is incredible to think, that these wonderful little devices that we call “mobile phones”, have become an integral part of our daily lives, an appendage. How many times have you heard someone say “not having my phone with me is like losing an arm!”…..really? Is it really so awful to not have your phone with you for more than an hour, two hours, a whole day? (*shudders at the thought). How many of us have set out on an unimportant errand, only to discover a mile down the road you’ve forgotten your mobile phone? You tell yourself “no matter, no biggie”, your sensible conscience which is still living happily in a pre-mobile 1999 tells you that it is possible to survive a day without your mobile phone. Which is why you’re now doing an illegal U-ey in the middle of the duel carriageway to floor it back home to get your god forsaken mobile! Why? Why does the prospect of potentially stacking your car into the central reservation seem so much more sensible than a day sans mobile? The reason I can write this, is because I’ve done it. And on the few occasions I’ve left my mobile at home and it’s been too late to go back for it, or my persistent absentmindedness has meant I haven’t noticed it not being there, (until of course my Facebook reflex kicks in, with my need to check what everyone is up to), I have found it incredibly liberating. Like a long lost friend, “ah, this is what it feels like to not know what EVERYONE is doing ALL the time”. Because with that power, to know all the nice things that are going on in people’s lives, comes the over exposure to all the positively shitty things too. All the misery, disease and misfortune in the world. All of which my poor brain tries to process on a daily basis, and can do Bugger all about it. 

I go back to it being called a “phone”, as I think this is a seriously loose and misplaced term. A phone is a means to communicate. How ironic that it is the root of much miscommunication, or indeed complete lack thereof, in most households. If we call it a phone, having our faces glued to it seems somehow more palatable. Yet we wouldn’t think it was normal to have a computer on your lap whilst you’re enjoying a pint with a friend, or have a huge computer sat on the dining table during Christmas dinner. But because these dinky little devices just sit comfortably at your side, we seem to accept their presence. 

When I met my husband at university, I remember us rather clumsily and romantically hauled up in a phone box to each ring our parents in turn. What has happened since then? So much in terms of technological advances, and I think in terms of the way couples interact. I remember telling my husband one night, that I think we should leave our phones in the kitchen during the evening. So if we’re watching TV together, we might be tempted to talk about it rather than tweet our passing comments. I think it’s what they call “casual conversation”. My husband is quite defensive if I challenge him about his device overuse, as I can be just as guilty, but on reflection, we both know that there is something fundamentally unsustainable about a relationship lived through social media. I am always wary of couples who proclaim their undying love for each other via Facebook. I have told my husband that if he ever wished me happy birthday via facebook, he can expect a call from my divorce solicitor! Just talk to me! Why is it so important to know what everyone is doing, and disturbingly, let every man and his dog know what your lovely family unit are up to. I can imagine a time in the future where we plan an outing, just because it’ll make great photo fodder for Facebook. “Let’s do this as a family, as people will think we’re really wholesome if we do”. I told some friends that I was recently walking, pushing my baby daughter in her pram, whilst simultaneously checking my emails on my phone  (you have to capitalise on these moments while they sleep), and an old lady walked past me with a look of bewildermemt. How much has life changed since her generation grew up? A mother can’t even find the time to look at her child, but instead has to be on her phone. She didn’t have to say it, her look said it all. I felt ashamed! How ridiculous, and yet how awful. Had I noticed the trees in blossom, or the freshly cut grass of the playing fields? Were my emails THAT important?

Maybe all this virtual interaction is to fill some kind of void in our lives, some kind of lack of excitement. Ironically if we put as much effort into our real life exchanges, as we do our virtual escapades, these voids would be filled tenfold. 


I am sat writing this blog on my mobile phone, but I am alone. I just watched a middle aged couple buy coffee, and proceed to sit opposite each other whilst silently using their phones. It has made me even more determined to make sure me and my husband hang on to who we married, otherwise this is what we’re all destined for, a date with roaming 3G and not each other. The challenge is however, to conquer the awkward, unnatural silences that occur when a phone amnesty is enforced. “So, what do you want to talk about?” Says a disgruntled husband who has reluctantly put away his phone. How on earth can romance or even just friendship flourish amongst such hostility? The answer is a good deal of effort from both parties. A one screen policy seems to work well, so if you’re watching TV together, no phones! No phones when you go to bed, and no phones over breakfast. And finally, definitely no phones during moments of passion, no matter how tempting it is to post that selfie on Facebook! Who knows, with a bit of effort, I might get a smooch in a phone box…if I can find one. 

Anyone fancy a game of Kids Party Top Trumps?

If you took your average 6 year old and asked them if they’d like to go to the park for their birthday and have a big fat ice cream, they’d probably punch the sky and shout “yeah!”. So when did all this glitz and glamour start? When did parents get so competitive in their quest to provide the most inventive party bag known to man? “Here you go kids, it’s an air dried goats bladder filled with rare natural sweets only found in the remote enclaves of the isle of Skye”. (Child runs away crying for Haribo…). Gone are the days of an orange wrapped in tin foil with cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks; “Mummy, there doesn’t appear to be any humus to dip my carrot baton into”. Have we created a monster that there is simply no escaping now, as kids expectations are through the roof? Is it really so lame to expect kids to dance to a Black Lace mega mix and open pass the parcel wrapped in last weeks newspapers? It seems that the stakes are pretty high, with parents sweating cobs as they try to delicately mould fondant icing into their little darlings favourite Disney character. Preparations into kids birthday cakes these days would impress even Mary Berry, and as for the buffet, you can expect your 5 a day and not an E number in sight! But who is this for? Certainly not the kids, as the full bowl of grapes next to the empty bowl of crisps would suggest. Is this all just a severe case of keeping up with Jones’s? 

It doesn’t just stop at the cake and party bags. The night before the big day, parents can be found embarking on an arts and craft project, only to rival Blue Peter, to make a home made birthday card, because buying a card means you don’t actually love your child. Buying the cake is tantamount to child cruelty, and don’t get me started on generic invitations!

It also appears that saying “thank you” in person will no longer suffice. You now have to sell a kidney to raise enough funds to buy lavish, professionally printed thank you cards, with a picture on that captures that perfect moment of happiness from the birthday party. The recipient then has to send an equally nauseating card to thank the host for having them, and suddenly everyone is caught in a never ending thanking vortex, where you keep thanking each other for the previous card! “Thank you for having us”

“Thank you for your card, thanking us for having you..”

“Thank you for your card, thanking us, for thanking you for having us….” etc. Argggh!

I have to admit there is one distinct advantage to this one-upmanship and that is the provisions put on for the grown ups. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s the poor suffering parents who have to endure weekend after weekend sat in the hell holes that are soft play centres, or listening to the back catalogue of One Direction whilst listening to the screams and cries of overexcited kids. We need some hardcore sustenance if we are to survive these gigs, not the slim pickings of the leftover wotsits, or a warm egg sandwich that 3 kids have already picked up and sampled. You can see the faces of ravenous parents hovering over their child’s plate, like vultures sizing up their prey, or you will hear the overused phrase “I’ll just check this for poison”, as another parents hand swoops in to gather up a fist full of cadburys chocolate fingers. The problem is that kids party food is just so damn good, or maybe it’s just because you’re so hungry by this point, you’d happily eat anything. But the new party etiquette is to put on a spread for the parents that is so good, you feel like you have to leave a tip on the table! Fresh coffee, home made cakes, the sky’s the limit! It won’t be long before even the parents will be leaving with party bags. Where does it end? Well, from this day forth, I’m starting a birthday party revolution, and challenge parents to put down the humus, and pick up the cheese and pineapple on sticks!  Because before we know it, we’ll have limousines chaperoning 6 year olds to Freddy’s Fun Hut and Cartier party bags with diamond encrusted party hats….now there’s an idea!

The death of the Tupperware party: Would you like to come to my make-up party to buy some overpriced make-up you don’t need?….No!

It seems that the age of the Tupperware party is well and truly over, and has been replaced by an elite, high-brow, middle class range of parties, that want you to part with huge amounts of your cash for stuff you just don’t want. This may seem like a mainly female phenomenon, but there’s much to learn here lads, so do read on, if only to arm yourself with good reasons why you shouldn’t let the missus go to that exclusive jewellery party at the neighbours next week!

Now you could argue that a make-up party sounds no different in principal to a Tupperware party. You go along to an awkward social gathering, where you only really know the hostess, and feel obliged to buy oodles of products you don’t really need. But because Sandra hands you a complimentary glass of Lambrini and a handful of dry roasted peanuts, you feel obliged to flash the cash and spend like it’s burning a hole in your pocket! The difference being, that this stuff is really going to set you back a bob or two, unlike five or ten quid for a lifetime supply of microwaveable soup cups (really handy actually!). If you have to consider remortgaging the house to come away with just one item, you have to ask yourself if this is a party, or daylight robbery! One make-up party I went to claimed its facial oil had fantastical healing properties. Well, at thirty quid for a thimble full love, I’m hoping this stuff will take my wrinkles back to 1985! 

The hostess normally hands over proceedings to an assigned sales person employed by the company, who dazzles you with facts and figures about the products that are so beguiling, you just nod in agreement, if only so you can speed things along and get another glass of Lambrini. Of course at first you feel flattered to be invited to such an event, only later to find out that even the hostess is on commission, bagging herself a hoard of free products as well as a cut of the sales. You’re told “there’s no pressure to buy”, but are then subjected to a sales pitch that is so aggressive, even Alan Sugar would blush! You don’t want to appear to be the only guest who’s as tight as a ducks backside, or come away empty handed, so you make some vain attempt at finding the cheapest thing on offer, like finding the tea towels on a John Lewis wedding list. 

An even trickier event is the charity-slash-jewellery party. I mean, who could turn down the opportunity to purchase a £100 tin bracelet that’s going to turn your wrist purple and bring you out in a rash, if it means a small percentage is going to charity? If you try and get out of buying something at a makeup charity evening, not only are you labelled “still ugly”, but you can add “selfish” and “heartless” to the list too.

You wouldn’t feel so bad if you felt these parties were genuinely to support someone setting up their own business, to feed their kids and keep a roof over their heads. But you start to feel that the fifty quid you’ve spent and worked so hard to earn, is just going towards their pocket money! The hostess will be out on a shopping spree the next weekend, whilst you stay in, skint, because you spent £150 on some miracle foundation that you’ll never actually use and makes you look like you’ve dived head first into the Rimmel reject bin!

Don’t get me wrong, I like to get together with the girls as much as the next person, but I’m not sure that friendship goes hand in hand with the pressure of the hard sell. It would take a really steely resolve to go to one of these parties and have the balls to say “no thanks, I’m just looking”. That resolve is especially needed when you are asked if you’d like to host the next party. It’s like the poisoned challis or that nasty bottle of plonk that keeps getting passed around at Christmas as an unwanted gift. “When can you host the next party?” 

“…errr I’m really busy”

“name a date in the future”

“I’m busy in the future, sorry…” (awkward silence ensues!). 

These sales reps are seriously pushy, so you’d better go armed with a bag of excuses as to why you can’t host the next party. And as for me…guess I’d better get a few bottles of Lambrini in and a bumper bag of dry roasted peanuts then….