One of the best things about Elaine and I being born just three weeks apart is that we remember loads of the same things from our childhood—especially television programmes and various items from the shopping basket.
Now I could stroll down a memory lane that has been cleaned by Vim or Ajax, but today’s offering has a chocolatey theme. I think it’s fair to say that my mouth bears the metallic scars of far too many trips to the sweet shop. When the dreaded time came for the six-monthly check-up, we would normally have the earliest appointments.
As a kid I used to think that if I went in first, I might catch the dentist before he was fully awake and he’d therefore miss the cavity that was staring up from one of my molars, yelling: “go on then, drill me you bas*!%&"... oops, something happened to the old keyboard there...
On a positive note, whenever there is a question on Pointless about metallic elements of the periodic Table, I usually do pretty well—mainly because most of the answers have been residing in various teeth since the 1970s...
Anyway back to the Topic (now that’s really clever) in hand.
I can’t really recall having a particular favourite type of chocolate, although I did feel it necessary to work my through every single bar as part of my research. Many favourites like Crunchie, Mars, Aero, Kit-Kat, Fruit & Nut etc have stood the test of time, but far more have disappeared for good. How many of this top ten of sadly departed bars do you
1. Cadbury’s Milk Tray – yes, in a bar!
2. Cadbury’s Bar Six
3. Mackintosh’s Golden Cup
4. Cadbury’s Amazin’ (raisin bar)
5. Nestlé Pink Panther Bar (strawberry flavoured)
6. Barratt Triffik (chocolate covered nougat)
7. Nestlé Texan (chew bar and cavity creator)
8. Rowntree’s Nutty (fudge and caramel coated in peanuts)
9. Cadbury’s Aztec
10. Rowntree’s Cabana (coconut and cherries... I bloody hate cherries)
And the absolutely best thing was that whichever bar you chose, you could wash it down with a can of strawberry Cresta—“it’s frothy man”.
In “our day”, we weren’t distracted from chocolate by things like computer games and other fancy gadgets that cost a fortune. Enjoyment and satisfaction could be bought for just a few pence—and there was the added benefit of the brisk walk to and from the sweet shop. Add to that the fact that thousands of dentists were able to regularly practice their drilling skills and there you have it: chocolate... the gift that just keeps on giving.
With Elaine on another late shift, I’ve spent a fair bit of the past two days on my own in the house—not something I particularly enjoy. I don’t mind my own company (well…), but I think a combination of “life experience” and an enduring ability to think too much can occasionally make being “home alone” slightly less relaxing than it should be.
In a previous life, various things happened that resulted in me finding it almost impossible to answer the door or pick up the phone because I always expected something bad to happen (because it often did…). The first ring of the phone and my heart would just start to race and it actually took several years of being with Elaine before the unseen wouldn’t panic me.
In just over a fortnight, Elaine and I will have been together for seven years—I honestly didn’t think I’d ever truly understand what words like “happy”, “trust” and the old indefinable “love” actually felt like. In my head, I didn’t deserve to find out, but Elaine must have seen something I couldn’t see in myself and as 10th July (our anniversary) draws closer, I instinctively start to remember how incredibly hard we fought to be together and how much I owe Elaine for believing in someone who felt he had very little to offer.
I do still dwell on negative things when I have too much time on my own—and yes I know that I shouldn’t, but I am far more aware of how my mind works, and I also know which music not to listen to! The fact is that every day starts and ends with the person who changed my life for the better and that is something I don’t ever forget.
In amongst it all, Elaine gave me the encouragement to write and the prospect of becoming a published (as opposed to self-published) author is one more thing I don’t think would have ever happened had Elaine and I never met. I have also been able to commit personal thoughts and feelings to paper (or its electronic equivalent) and that has certainly helped me come to terms with what many people would call “demons”. It’s not so much the fact that others read my blogs, it’s more the slightly selfish act of the release, but much as I’m a stronger person than I was a decade ago, I realise only too well the main reason why...
I love you Elaine... hurry home xxx
Notes to self: next time you go to the O2 Academy, wear old shoes, because the floor evidently hasn’t been cleaned in years – either that or they’ve laid some very sticky carpet. And also, you need to find somewhere to sit because femoro-acetabular impingement (look it up… it’s not fun) plus a three hour stand equals a painful night/morning/ following afternoon.
Anyway, last night Elaine and I made the trip north to see Bo Bruce on what I think was the second night of her live tour.
Oh… note number three… smuggle in some pop because the Pepsi (at least that’s what they called it) was £1.75 for a very small plastic cup.
Bo may not have won last year’s final of The Voice, but right from the blind audition (when her first couple of lines sent a shiver down my spine), it was clear that she had a special talent and what I was really looking forward to was hearing Bo sing without the gloss of a television performance and the relative safety of a produced album.
The reality was stunning.
Her dress was able to flow courtesy of the fan at her feet and she is obviously a very pretty young woman, but I couldn’t help but be drawn to her eyes - wonderfully emotive and expressive.
And that voice…
What struck me was the way that Bo almost lost herself in her music at times: songs written at the most exciting, yet paradoxically saddest period of her life and lyrics which hold an intensely personal meaning were shared with people (most of whom) Bo had never met. I have tried, in my own way, to use this blog as a release from those times of deep introspection that I have. Maybe the songs Bo sang last night are a similar release, albeit on an artistic plane far higher than I could ever aspire to.
Much may have been made of Bo’s background and upbringing, but it’s irrelevant. She certainly didn’t ask to be born into privilege and the truth is that nothing can prevent the emptiness and grief that can follow the loss of a loved one. During Bo’s last song, there was a line: “A day is still a day, I just miss you…” I stood with my hand resting on Elaine’s shoulder, my wife who has lost both her parents and I’m not embarrassed to say that I shed a tear.
A glance up at the stage and Bo’s eyes (whether open or shut) conveyed the pain she has suffered and I felt privileged that I was one of those people with whom Bo Bruce was willing and able to share such emotion.
I don’t think I want to say anything else. Maybe one day I’ll get the chance to meet Bo Bruce and thank her in person – maybe I won’t, but I witnessed someone and something very special last night and for that I am very grateful x
We had a brilliant time at the Mrs Brown’s Boys live show last night. The trip up the A19 was interrupted by a visit to a well-known fast-food chain for a bite to eat (have you seen the Arena’s prices?!). Obviously it wouldn’t be right to mention the establishment by name, but my meal was very McPleasant indeed...
We arrived just over an hour before the show. The weather wasn’t great, but being able to park in the Arena car park was a timely reminder of last year’s floods that had not only closed the car park, but meant that a lot of people had been physically unable to reach the venue at all...
Work is pretty unsettling for both of us at the moment, so we were looking forward to the chance to switch off for a couple of hours and hopefully have a really good laugh in the process—and we certainly weren’t disappointed.
This was the third year we’d seen the show and this was the best of the three. There was the usual mix of previously televised gags and new—or better still, ad-libbed—material but the highlight came during a seemingly unscripted (but presumably not totally unplanned) exchange between Mrs Brown and daughters-in-law Maria and then Betty—or alternatively, real-life father and daughter and father-in-law and daughter-in-law.
The fun started with a witty line from Maria (Fiona O’Carroll) that prompted Agnes (Brendan O’Carroll) to reply: “The ball’s in play and the game is on..!”
She/he then had a bit of “banter” with Maria, before focussing attention on Betty (Amanda Woods): “So how is your mother?”
“She’s still dead,” came the clearly unexpected response.
“What did she die of?”
“What was she doing, chasing an Abominable Snowman?!”
“No, she was shopping in Iceland!!”
A proud father-in-law conceded a “touché” as I nearly choked on an M&M.
Much as that was the personal high point of the show, the most memorable moment of my evening was still to come. Like we had last year, we decided to wait and try and meet some of the cast. I got several autographs—sadly more than half were ruined by a fairly heavy downpour—and some great photos, which are included at the bottom of the page (I’m down to two chins on one of them!).
I asked Amanda Woods to sign a photo—and she only bloody recognised me!
She asked how I was and how the writing was going... to say I was surprised is an understatement that should really be preceded by one of Agnes’ trademark
expletives, but it was a lovely moment—thank you Amanda x
Soon after, the heavens opened and with photos taken and autographs smudged, it was time to head back to the car... and back to Middlesbrough. I realise comedy is subjective and Mrs Brown’s Boys might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but Brendan O’Carroll and the rest of the cast have brought so much fun and laughter into our lives—and for that I am genuinely fecking grateful.
You know how it is, you hardly ever have a big night out and then two come along at once.
On Friday’s we’ll be travelling north to see the Mrs Brown’s Boys stage show (for the third successive year) and seventy-two hours later, Elaine and I will get the chance to see—and hear—the wonderful Bo Bruce at Newcastle’s O² Academy. We’ve had the tickets for ages, so I suppose it’ll be nice not to have to find the money—although as I remember, you don’t get much change out of a tenner for a drink and a hot dog at the Metro Arena (that’s where Mrs Brown’s Boys is taking place).
Of course, we could split the hot dog and get two straws for the drink. Better still, pig out at home and try and smuggle some pop past the security men...
Last year, we were lucky enough to meet most of the Mrs Brown’s Boys cast and I was impressed by how approachable and friendly they all were. I’m sure that in the world of celebrity, you will encounter any number of people wanting a bit of your time. Exchanging a few words, signing an autograph or posing for a photo might only take a minute or so, but especially for the young “fan”, those few moments will be both personal and special.
Down the years, I’ve almost shied away from such encounters, mainly because I always remembered meeting a couple of people I’d admired from the world of sport and let’s just say the prospect was far removed from the reality.
I wouldn’t use the word “heroes” —that word is reserved for the likes of Muhammad Ali—but when I was about nine years old, my favourite cricketer was the Lancashire and West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd. The meeting was a chance encounter with the West Indies touring party at York railway station. Virtually the whole squad had signed my autograph book when I offer my book and pen to the team’s figurehead.
But he refused... he’d signed too many autographs...
Sadly, at nine years old, I didn’t know the right word to describe my immediately ex-favourite cricketer. Forty years on, I know loads of suitable words... but I fear the moment has gone.
A number of years later, I was a club cricketer of little or no repute, and still a Lancashire fan despite being born in the White Rose county. I went to “an evening with” Paul Allott, decent test bowler and future poor commentator. I did admire him as a cricketer, but when I spoke to him, he was arrogant to the point of being rude.
Luckily by the age of twenty-six, I was far better acquainted with the term “arsehole”...
Thankfully, such examples are few and far between, but just go to show how the memory of one bad experience can linger for years—which probably explains why I don’t eat rice pudding.
So much as I’m now far too old to be “star-struck”, I’m really looking forward to both nights. If the last two years are anything to go by, Mrs Brown’s Boys will be great and, having exchanged quite a few e-mails with Bo Bruce before her career really took off, she seemed to be a kind and genuine young woman —as well as a fantastic singer. Who knows, maybe I might get to meet her in person next Monday: I won’t have my autograph book (I threw it at Clive Lloyd’s carriage as the train pulled away), but, just in case, the camera’s already on charge!
The Hollywood actress Jean Harlow (whose birth name was Harlean Carpenter) passed away on this day in 1937—she was just twenty-six years of age.
A few years ago, I decided to find out about Jean’s tragically short (but undeniably eventful) life when I discovered she was born just four days before my grandmother Gertie in 1911. At the time, I was researching my family tree and adding details of births, deaths or famous (which could also mean “random”) events to give my own family’s story some sort of historical context.
I am thoroughly ashamed to say that I had hardly watched any old black and white movies (although that oversight has now been remedied), but I had probably—albeit inadvertently—seen her on screen as I was a massive fan of Laurel & Hardy. Jean made a brief, but memorable, appearance in the 1929 Hal Roach short Double Whoopee, in which Jean gets out of her car, only to have the lower half of her dress ripped off when it gets trapped in the door. (The scene was fairly racy for its time, but genius is timeless— and Stan Laurel was a genius—and pretty much the same stunt is recreated in an episode of Miranda Hart’s self-titled comedy series.)
Jean Harlow possessed the main attributes needed for an acting career—she was young and had both a fantastic figure and stunning looks. Whether or not she was a great actress is something for the experts to debate—personally, I think she had brilliant comic timing and it was in her more light-hearted roles that she excelled. She was blessed/ cursed (delete as appropriate) with the ultimate pushy mother, who played out her own dreams through her daughter—and signed most of Jean’s “autographs” for her. The young actress most certainly had a thoroughly unpleasant stepfather, Marino Bello, who deserves less than the passing mention I’ve just given him.
That said, Jean’s star rose quickly, her platinum-dyed hair was a box office winner, yet her private life was a mess. She managed three marriages in her short adult life—and was engaged to actor William Powell at the time of her death. Husband number two, Paul Bern, died in what was an apparent suicide and, as with many of the Hollywood stars of the era, Jean endured more than her fair share of controversy and heartache, before the ultimate tragedy of losing her life to renal failure at such a ridiculously young age.
I have read (actually I only half read—it was crap) a biography which painted Jean as a brash, almost lewd woman, but I’ve also come across articles which show what I believe to the “real” Jean Harlow, genuine, kind and considerate beyond her years—read my bio if you want to find out more!!. Of course, there may have been occasions when she acted her part in public (this was Hollywood after all), but for me, Jean Harlow was not simply the “original platinum blonde”; she was a young woman blessed with talent and a beauty that was much, much more than skin deep and this blog is affectionately dedicated to the memory of my movie idol x
Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of the incident at the Epsom Derby which— four days later—claimed the life of suffragette Emily Davison, who had stepped out onto the course during the race, but was knocked to the ground by King George V’s horse Anmer.
Born in 1872, Emily Davison was a militant and occasionally violent campaigner for women’s rights who served several terms in jail and endured being force-fed on numerous occasions.
I watched a recent documentary, which explained in graphic detail how a prisoner would be force-fed—it was a brutal process and whether or not you agree with the principles and actions of the more radical suffragettes, it’s hard not to be in some way impressed by their selfless determination in pursuit of their cause.
There are several theories regarding the fateful events of 4th June 1913, but the remarkable footage that was shown during the documentary certainly seems to give some insight into Miss Davison’s possible motives.
She was standing at Tattenham corner, in a position where she will have been aware of oncoming horses, but given the speed they were travelling, merely ducking under the barrier and setting foot on the course would have been fraught with danger and identifying one particular horse would have been almost impossible.
It appears that Emily was carrying a scarf or sash promoting women’s suffrage and may have been intending to gain some publicity by somehow putting the scarf over the head of one of the horses. She actually did remarkably well to evade two horses as she moved across the track, but the slow motion footage of the collision with Anmer shows the horse almost rear on its hind legs in an attempt to jump over the obstacle that had unexpectedly appeared right in front of it. This is probably something that Emily would not have foreseen and the impact sent her crashing unconscious to the turf.
Whether or not she intended to kill herself (and I don’t think she did) and whether or not she intended to pick out the King’s horse (and I’m less certain about this), Emily Davison’s desire to promote women’s rights ended with her paying the ultimate price.
If you ignore the underlying politics, the century-old footage is extraordinary, but the tragedy of the situation wasn’t restricted to Emily Davison: Anmer’s jockey Herbert Jones was haunted by the incident—so much so that he would eventually take his own life some thirty-eight years later.
Given the world we live in now, it is hard to comprehend the way things were just one hundred years ago. There will be many who will honour the memory of Emily Davison and whilst I can’t say I condone her methods, her courage deserves (and has) my admiration.
It looks like the sun has deigned to come out on my last day of being forty-eight—some small compensation for the clock ticking inexorably towards the “big 5-0” next year.
Actually, it’s no compensation at all. . . .
We’re going to go out for a meal tomorrow, but there’ll be no real celebrations, and certainly no cake—not that you’d be able to see any cake for all the bloody candles.
And I’d probably have a seizure trying to blow them out.
Or start a potentially serious fire if I couldn’t.
Or both. . . .
As for next year, well I doubt it’ll be any different, although affordable life cover (with no medical—acceptance guaranteed) will be available and I’ll get a Parker pen just for enquiring. Marvellous, I’m always losing pens. Elaine and I have already decided (seeing as we were born just three weeks apart) on a joint party, that will involve lots of drink—and just two guests.
You can enquire about coming—non-acceptance guaranteed—but you
will receive a half-chewed William Hill biro for asking.
At least my fiftieth won’t be any worse than my fortieth, which came less than three months after revelations that changed the course of my life forever. It was the absolute worst of times, but ultimately (albeit indirectly) led me to where I am now I suppose . . . married to someone I absolutely adore.
But first I’ve got to contend with twelve months of being forty-nine—the last time my age will be a ball in the lottery. Hopefully it will be a good year; I’m so excited about having my Doctor Who book published, but writing doesn’t pay the bills and with major changes imminent at work, I suppose there will be more unsettling times ahead.
That said, I can’t influence whatever decisions are made, but at least I know that each and every day begins and ends with Elaine and, to be honest, that is the best birthday gift of all.
Today is Marilyn Monroe’s birthday – she would have been eighty-seven, the same age as Queen Elizabeth II. It is now fifty-one years since Marilyn passed away, yet still she makes a difference to so many people – and in a way, I suppose I am one of them.
Little did I realise when I started researching her life (compiling my attempt at a biography along the way), that within four years, I’d be on the verge of having one of my books professionally published, but that is exactly what has happened – even though I still can’t quite believe it.
I write for fun... to unwind and to try and forget the pressures of work. As most of you who have a book (or two) of mine will know, I initially only intended to give my work to family and my closest friends – one reason being an enduring lack of confidence in my writing ability (which may have reduced slightly, but will probably always exist).
The moment when things changed came with an e-mail from Michelle Morgan. She had somehow got to hear about my Marilyn bio and very craftily asked for a “review copy” (that’s “free” to you and me!).
Her “review” was more positive and encouraging than I could ever have believed possible. A number of copies of the book were sold, a few more reviews followed and I was completely taken aback by some of the comments I received from people who have loved Marilyn for years and have forgotten more than I will ever know about her life.
I have made (albeit not met in person) so many new friends because of Marilyn Monroe and writing Something Had to Give ultimately (and undeniably) led to BearManor Media agreeing to publish Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman, my quest to track down all of Doctor Who’s female companions.
The book has been edited and is about to be put through the typesetting process – I can’t tell you how excited I am at the prospect of seeing the finished article, and how grateful I am to everyone who has been involved (in whatever capacity) in allowing me to realise a
Back to the birthday girl and I’m sure most of you will have a favourite Marilyn film – mine is Don’t Bother to Knock – and some will have a favourite photograph (although there are quite a few to choose from!). Mine is this 1953 shot taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt – for me it just encapsulates everything about this remarkable young woman.
Her expression seems to convey Marilyn alone with her thoughts... her dreams maybe, but there is the tiniest hint of fear in her eyes and for me, the photo perfectly displays the stark contrast between Marilyn’s beauty and vulnerability.
The picture will have probably been posed, yet looks effortlessly natural, and captivating as a result. Her outfit couldn’t be simpler, but she looks stunning – a gentle nudge to those women of today who believe that you have to be either a size zero, or artificially inflate various parts of your body to become desirable...
Maybe one or two of you will leave a comment and let me know what you think, but for now, all that is left for me to say is Happy Birthday Marilyn – and thank you xx
All my own work... almost.