Twitter

Follow me on Twitter: @janemcintyre12

JanePic

Hello.

I'm Jane McIntyre, a voiceover and writer, formerly an award-winning BBC radio newsreader and producer. My blog covers life, love and loss; travel, coffee and chocolate; with some heartfelt pieces in the mix about my late dad, who had dementia. Just a click away, I'm half of the team behind www.thetimeofourlives.net - two empty nesters who whizzed round the world in 57 days.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Oh my days. Hope yours were happy too.




2013.

Was it good for you?

Thanks, if you played any part in the pictures above, or just tweeted me, met me for coffee, encouraged me to keep running, chatted to me or turned my Metro map up the right way in Paris or Rome. Thanks if you shared a laugh over lunch, helped while away those endless hours waiting for 'action'... on set... cheered me up when I worried about Dad, or just listened. Always happy to be a listening ear for you too. So... ready?   Here's to the next one  xx

Top row, left to right: Juliet on the beach at Aberdovey, freezing February at Harlech, my 'hometown' from the Shard, yeh, right, beautiful woodland near Shrewsbury on my morning mile, Rome in July.

Second row, left to right: Alice, as 'Meat' in We Will Rock You, view from my Rome apartment, Emanuale at his veg stall in Campo di Fiori market, the Severn on my morning run, home, beautiful little studio in Vieux Nice from outside.

Third row, left to right: inside my Nice hideaway in November, Nice - the view from the Castle, 'extra' friends on set, Trafalgar Square this Christmas, autumn path out running, Alice(left) and Juliet in The Witches of Eastwick.  

Fourth row, left to right: Juliet at Stokesay Castle, Marbella palm trees in April, junkshop in Normandy, Juliet on the Brooklyn Bridge, Dad in his fine hat, Alice.

Fifth row, left to right: Harlech beach,Scott rolls up (eventually...!) to mini Tweet up at the Steam Rally, boots, made for walking, etc, lol, Big Cuz Phil on his Olympic London cycle thang, Normandy cottage (Twitter mates' rates...!), Happy Day at the Big Busk, Shrewsbury.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

We'll have to muddle through somehow...


How many Christmas days are you having this year?

We had a sneaky one on Saturday morning before Juliet flew out to America.

And then another at Dad's house on Sunday before I headed home.

He's 85 now, with advanced dementia, and spends all his time in bed. I tried to stir up some festive family memories. 'Have yourself a merry little Christmas' was always his favourite song - one that would make this big, brave man's eyes glisten, year after year. It's always been special to our family.

I tried a singing few lines, wobbling a bit when I had to negotiate 'next year... all our troubles will be out of sight...'

Nothing.

So I remembered the laughs we'd had as children, singing 'We wish you a merry Christmas' with him. We'd always end up giggling over the mention of 'figgy pudding...' and then defiantly shouting out the 'won't go until we've got some' verse.

Furrowed brow.

OK... I'd try a present. It's hard to know what to buy the man who had everything, but has forgotten most of it.

So I'd  got a 'John McIntyre's Memory Book' made up. There are press cuttings of various proud and heroic career moments. A picture from the fifties of him marrying mum. Beach shots from sunny holidays on Hayling Island. And more recent views of his pretty garden, his partner Phyllis, Dad's new hat, my sister and me, and our three children. All with simple, printed captions.

He flicked through, not really registering. I'd steeled myself for that, vowing to bite my lip if he clearly didn't recognise my mugshot, even though I'd be standing right beside him. I was, and he didn't.

And then he turned to the very oldest picture of them all. A now sepia shot of him as a bonny blond toddler in his mother's arms.

'That's my mum,' he said. 'My mummy'.

Seven words, shining like a beacon through the now dense fog of his dementia.

One picture, from more than eighty years ago,stirring instant recognition in a man who struggles to name people he's seen five minutes before.

I gulped a bit, then smiled. As 'Memory Books' go - this one had done its job. As for the rest of it?

Yes, Dad. We'll 'have to muddle through, somehow...' And we will.

Happy Christmas xx


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Dear David: A tale of two parents.




Dear David Cameron and all at the G8 dementia summit. Got five minutes to hear about my mum and dad?

First: Jeannie.

She was 48 when she developed breast cancer. It was found just weeks before she was due to get married (to a man whose wife, sadly, had died of breast cancer). They went ahead with the wedding. A Londoner, Jeannie had worked in the city since her teens. She met Bertie at one of the big banks. She travelled to some fantastic places on business with him - on Concorde once. And when she needed it, the care Jeannie received at London teaching hospitals was among the best available anywhere in the world.

Although Jeannie had some good, 'clear' years, the cancer was to return in a very aggressive form, and she died seven years after diagnosis. She never knew her grandchildren: all of them lovely and sources of great pride.

The disease had claimed the life of one of her five sisters, and was to prove fatal, later, for another. A third sister has beaten breast cancer twice, and has survived into her eighties. So, it's 'in the family' and has knocked at my door too. Because of that, I have regular screening, was accepted on to a pioneering MRI research programme and another looking into DCIS. I feel 'watched over'. In a good way.

Now: John.

Down the mines near Musselburgh at 14, he 'escaped' to London to join the Met police. He was on the beat in London, then selected for royalty protection duties, often solely responsible for the security of key royals. He stayed in palaces around the world, worked the longest days, was an excellent marksman, fit and strong; protecting people. And looking after his family.

He's been battling Alzheimer's for over five years, and so now, we're doing our best to look after him. These days, he's bedridden, but at home. He needs help with every aspect of daily living. His face lights up when he sees me, but sometimes he forgets my name. He got to know the grandchildren well, but now struggles to remember their names or what they're up to.

I never expected to be standing over my big, brave dad with a toddler cup and a feeding spoon, but that's the way it is. His partner and carer, Phyllis, does an amazing job, backed up by visits from a local carer, paid for by Dad. She needs a break. Lots of breaks. Local carers' groups are helping, but it all takes planning, and Dad's not always receptive to newcomers who might 'sit' with him. He's had some bad days lately. Sleepy weeks. Not sure what the future holds, really. It scares me.


I was shocked, Mr Cameron, to see a report by Fergus Walsh on BBC news last night. It contained a statistic from the Alzheimer's Society, on how research into cancer receives eight times as much funding as research into dementia. Eight times! Is one condition more 'cruel' than the other? More deserving of investment into its prevention? I don't think so. From where I'm sitting, they both hurt like hell.

I know you've said you're working to address this, planning to double the amount of funding over the next decade or so, to £132 million, and increasing support for carers, like Phyllis.

But I'd like to hear that you're not 'just' doubling dementia funding... but quadrupling it, and then some. It seems that because dementia was for so long considered to be a sad and inevitable fact of life for some elderly people, it's slipped down the priorities list, and it shouldn't have done. You have the predictions and the projections at your fingertips now.

Cancer and dementia are equally cruel conditions in their way; for patients, and for families like mine. Both are dreaded and feared. I hope you use this G8 summit to make dementia research and care as much of a priority as that surrounding cancer, and as an opportunity to think about devoting more funds to those with other life threatening and life limiting conditions. Please keep support for carers uppermost in your mind. With the dementia timebomb ticking, you're going to need them more than ever. And they will be looking to you, to get the funding, the support, and the respite they desperately need.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Was:snappy.Now:happy.



Instead of a blog today, I`m leaving you with some pics...by way of a kind of `test card`. Remember those? I used to work with someone (hello Andrew...) who was an expert in their different guises. And the music they played. Don`t ask me why.

Anyway...I`m really feeling the sandwich generation thing this week...and as the filling, I`ve probably spread myself far too thinly. That means that today, I`m a little bit knackered, a bit grumpy, and snappy (step away now...) It`s not helped by having some really crap recollections of stuff kicking off in November a couple of years ago...stuff I walked away from but which still resurfaces sometimes.

But if things get me down, I`m now lucky enough to be able to jump in the car and head...anywhere. And today I thought I`d keep my snappiness to myself, and hit the beach. Aberdovey is one of my favourite places on the planet...especially on cold, bright, winter days when there are just six people and me on the beach. And a couple of ridiculously happy, lollopy, splashy dogs...hilarious to watch. I walked the length of the sandy beach and back, then did it over again, collected some shells, gazed out to sea, paddled in my red wellies,and then had a hot cup of coffee and a slab of cake, and headed home. Life is good. And sometimes a Monday like this will kick me up the backside and remind me of that. Hope yours was happy too xx




You said..

thanks to ' Yours grumpily' Monday was better. We of a certain age have baggage and it does resurface. Kick it to the kerb!


would you say your blog was an F, C, PM5544 or ETP1?

Great photos! Lovely place!


it's so beautiful there. Especially in the 'off' season. :)

love love love Aberdovey but lets not tell too many people




Sunday, 10 November 2013

Meanwhile in Normandy....









....in a tiny village called Breel, there`s a still new war memorial to three British airmen. 

The stone, plaque, and the research that went into it, are all thanks to a wonderful man called Ron Vickers. 

Ron was a great bloke; a former teacher. He was entertaining, caring, incredibly clever and a joy to be with. His death was mourned not just by his family and friends in England, but by people in Breel, near Falaise, where he`d been holidaying for more than twenty years.

Ron was fascinated by the tale of three British airmen, who were killed in action on August 8th 1944 when their Wellington crashed at Breel. He spent many, many months painstakingly researching their lives and families so that there could be a lasting memorial to these young men in the village, and to a fourth airman who died later that year.

He managed to trace their relatives and bring them together from all over the world to join a poignant memorial service to them on August 8th 2008. It was a moving, bitter-sweet occasion, with grieving family members supported by villagers and expats. There were readings in French and English, smart uniforms and medals, a few tears, and some smiles too at the French national anthem firing off on the loud speaker at the wrong moment, but that added to the charm of the occasion.

And on every August 8th since then, flowers have been laid at that little memorial in Breel as a mark of respect.





I was there last year, missing the wonderful man who`d helped bring the memorial, and that special act of remembrance to fruition. Seven of us gathered at 11am on August 8th to support Margaret, Ron`s widow, as she laid flowers at the memorial. Martin Weston, who`d worked so hard alongside Ron during his research, read a poem and then invited us back for coffee.

There were cheese scones, rich tea biscuits, some friendly banter and a chance to check out Martin and Linda`s chickens and sheep. It was a lovely morning.

When it was time to leave, I went off for a wander through the village that Ron Vickers loved so much. I pushed open the creaking door of the tiny,16th century village church and stepped out of the August heat into the cool stillness of this simple, beautiful building. And because it seemed right, I dropped some euros in the box and lit a candle for Ron, and for the fallen airmen .

You can struggle to remember the right word sometimes. But some things...and some people....should never be forgotten.


Monday, 28 October 2013

Should `killing time`..be a crime?



We`ve all done it. I`ve kicked my heels on railway station platforms up and down the land, willing the train to arrive. Gazed distractedly at stuff in shop windows I`d never buy....because I`m too early for the hairdresser. Sat frowning in cold, dark car parks, wondering why my daughters were always the last to emerge from rehearsals. And got angry in soulless, hospital clinics,wondering how to annihilate the estimated `hour`s waiting time` until the doctor`s free.

Yes there are books to read. Yes there`s Twitter to amuse you.But more often than not in those situations, I just sit there getting angry. Killing time.

And then you read something like this on Twitter, from Kate Granger (@GrangerKate ). `I love autumn `, she wrote.`Make the most of this one as may not see another.` With a picture of a beautiful, autumnal tree. A few days earlier, Kate had posted that it would be her birthday soon. ` Really don`t feel much like celebrating,` she said, `but will probably be my last, so should make the effort.`

Kate`s a doctor, and has terminal cancer. I haven`t met her, but I wish I could. She sounds strong, feisty, incredibly bright, and determined, daily, to make a difference in the health service, by improving standards of care. She writes often about the `hello, my name is...` campaign--a bid for health workers to stop and introduce themselves to the patients they meet. I bet Kate, and people like her, would love to have some of the time that the rest of us waste.

The journalist Helen Fawkes @helenfawkesUK is another inspirational woman who also happens to have cancer. Her blog, helenfawkes.wordpress.com records how she`s doing with her `bucket list`--her List for Living. `Zooming down a zipwire, and being driven fast,round a racetrack` are there, and give you a taste of the kind of positive, `make the most of every second` woman Helen is.

I can think, without racking my brains too hard, of four people I know who are facing potentially life threatening health issues. They need time, as well as the right care, to get fit again. I could name other, special people, and I bet you could, too, who assumed they`d plod along until their seventies or eighties, but got taken from us suddenly--in an accident or after a swift, savage illness that no one could have predicted.

I don`t have any answers. I can`t promise that I`ll while away the `waiting` hours writing something worthwhile, baking for a charity event or knitting squares for freezing knees. But I`ll think of something useful. I do know that time is precious. But sometimes, you need to meet someone who`s seriously short of the stuff, to remind you of that.





Monday, 7 October 2013

The best things in life...




....are often free. From heartfelt gestures to the simplest sights and sounds --all of them can make your day.

For me: love, family, friends, good health, a clear blue sky or the sun on my skin are the kind of `free` things that prove life`s worth living.The sound of Shropshire church bells ringing out on a still, cold, wintry night, or the view from one of the county`s beautiful hills on a clear day are pretty special, too.

So too, are kindness, smiles, laughing about nothing in particular with friends or loved ones until my jaws ache, feeling sand between my toes during a day at the beach, or sinking into a warm, candlelit bubble bath when I get home.

And more recently for me, that sense of achievement and surge of energy after finishing a four or five mile walk or run..makes me feel a million dollars, even if I look like a panting wreck. And no gym fees!

Anyway,back to kind gestures-- we just got home to find in our porch a little jar of crab apple jelly, and a bag of courgettes.

They were from Mary-down-the-lane.

She`d popped a bag of runner beans and a couple of courgettes round last week. In return, we picked her some cooking apples, along with some damsons and crab apples, and left them by her door. Today`s beautifully labelled jar was our reward.

We`re now turning some of her veg, and leftovers in the fridge, into home made soup for tonight, and more for the freezer. All `free`, but more than that, a lovely gesture of neighbourly friendship. Juliet (pictured below picking some cooking apples) has reminded me that we need to check out Jack Monroe`s website again--top recipes, for not much outlay.


It makes you wonder though, how much more we could do for each other, trading the fruit and vegetables in our gardens or allotments, baking a cake in return for mowing a lawn; swapping our skills. I know these schemes already exist in many communities. No money changes hands. Does that happen where you live?

The Freecycle and Freegle movement works along similar lines. Not only do they provide a fantastic way to keep your unwanted goods out of landfill, they provide subscribers with all kinds of home items that they`d otherwise have to pay for. We`ve passed on beds, tables, a Hostess trolley, shelves, magazines,clothes, children`s bikes and toys and a couple of sofas in recent years.And we`ve bid for, and received some useful rugs, a cupboard, a couple of dining chairs and some deckchairs in return. What a brilliant scheme!

I`m going to London soon... travelling on £6 tickets (available to all ages)--a fraction of how much they`d normally cost me-- and some of my accommodation is going to be completely free. While I`m there, I`m going to be finding out just whether it`s possible to do London `on the cheap`. From food, to family attractions, to transport, to sampling the capital`s culture.

If you have any ideas, let me know, and I`ll tell you how I get on.

In the meantime....the soup smells delicious. Thanks Mary, and Juliet, and Jack. I`ll go and give it a stir......

COMMENTS:


in this materialistic world we live in often overlooked :)


the skills bank idea never took off in ; but we does has a Games Bank where kids can borrow outdoor games for free

Monday, 30 September 2013

Oi George!

...couple of things. Won`t keep you long because I know you`ll be busy at the conference.

OK..`Help to Work.` It`s like this. I can`t imagine how soul destroying it must be to spend a month, a year...a couple of years looking for a job.

I guess, after a while, you feel pretty rejected and worthless. Over the years,I`ve talked to lots of good, honest, hardworking people who`ve written hundreds of job applications. Sometimes, they don`t even get an acknowledgement, never mind an interview. It chips away at your confidence. Makes you wonder if you`ll ever feel the pride of a hard earned pay cheque again.

It`s rarely their `fault`, of course. It`s a combination of economic factors and sometimes, bloody bad luck. But weeks roll into months, then years and now, before they know it, they could find themselves on this new `Help to Work` thing. Look,everyone knows we`re in dire straits. No one wants to see countless millions handed out willy nilly to people who have no intention of working . OK, so now you say that there`ll be no `something for nothing` any more. And that people who qualify for the Help to Work scheme will be doing `useful work to put something back into their community; making meals, for the elderly, clearing up litter, working for a local charity.`

You`ll be careful,though, won`t you, George? Because I can think of some people who`d feel the whole tone of this `launch` sounds like they`re in trouble. To blame. Being punished. You can understand where I`m coming from, can`t you? I did a quick check of what goes on during community service, and the community payback schemes. The ones you get put on when you`ve committed a crime.

Various tasks...including `removing graffiti` and `clearing wasteland`.Sprucing up places like community centres. Granted, there`s a supervisor watching over you, and you have to wear a hi-vis vest. But you can see how people who are long term unemployed might just feel that they`d drifted into a community service scheme for criminals while they`re out, cleansing the community on your `Help to Work` scheme,can`t you?

Oh and the other thing. It`s one for David, really but I guess you got involved...and you`ll probably see him for a quick snifter tonight, so pass it on if you get a mo--thanks.

It`s about that tax break thing for about four million married couples.Worth a couple of hundred quid a year.
I know David sees it as giving married couples a bit of a pat on the back for entering a fine institution..and that many senior Tories see marriage as the best way to give children a strong start and a more stable future.

It`s just that....not all of us feel that way.

I know you`ll be shocked but I think my daughters are turning out just fine, in spite of the fact their parents never married. Some people choose not to. Many people are raising fantastic, happy children , *even though* they never walked up an aisle. Many more are in single parent relationships, either through choice, or after the trauma of divorce or bereavement. So...can you see how giving a gold star to families who`ve done it `the Sam n` Dave way` feels pretty unfair? Marriage isn`t a rock solid guarantee of health,happiness or stability--for the couple, or their kids. Help families in need, please, whatever shape, size or gender they happen to be. Marriage is one way. But please don`t try and tell us it`s the `best` way.

Cheers. Enjoy Manchester. Check out Primark. Massive. :)






Saturday, 21 September 2013

Don`t forget me....




I write about loads of stuff on this blog. Family, friends, gin, chocolate, my dancing daughters, being an extra on the telly,running (really badly...) and my passion for travelling anywhere really...Trafalgar Square,Times Square, Rome, Marbella, Normandy (Nice is next ;)  ) 

Life is sweet, pretty much. And in the mix, is my Dad, who has Alzheimer`s. By chance, I`ll be with him on Saturday September 21st...World Alzheimer`s Day, so his partner/carer can get a much deserved day out. So here`s one I prepared earlier, with apologies to you if you`ve read it before. A piece about a trip to Kent six months ago. I`m driving through the night again in a few hours because I hate M25 jams....then I`ll sleep for a few hours and wake in time for breakfast with dad. So here it is....(Merry Alzheimer`s Day...!) If you also love someone who has this devastating condition, could you retweet this for me or pass it on another way? I hope you see those glimmers of hope and light today, too.


It was good seeing him.

I got there at lunchtime, armed with a promised picnic of treats. He was in his usual chair, angled, as ever, towards the television, glancing over, even though the screen was off.

Once a broad shouldered six footer, he`s frail now, so doesn`t tend to get up for visitors. But he returned my hug, kiss and smile and his eyes had that welcoming twinkle of recognition.

`Wasn`t too bad today on the motorway,` I ventured. `About four hours`.

`Oh?` said my dad; unwittingly about to deliver a low blow.`Where from ?`

And that`s how it is when someone you love so dearly, has dementia. It`s a slow decline, but you cling on to crumbs of comfort; feeling secure that they still know you. And they do, really. They just can`t be sure, any more,where you live.

I don`t know how he feels. But I sometimes imagine a huge jigsaw. As you grow from childhood to your adult years, more pieces are added. People, places, experiences.There are the really key segments; your family, your partner, your home. Stick them in the centre somewhere. Further out, holiday shots, pictures of the homes your children move to when they grow and leave; pieces showing the smiling faces of your grandchildren.

Then maybe, as the Alzheimer`s develops, it`s as if the pieces get removed, one by one.

Lunch came and went. Sandwiches, sausages, little pork pies, a box of profiteroles; coffee. The plates were cleared but dad`s padded lap tray stayed in position as I chatted with Phyllis, his partner. He didn`t really join in. He looked up often, towards the telly, but nothing doing there. He gazed back down repeatedly at the picture on his tray--some kind of farmyard scene.

My heart sank again, as I realised he was tapping his finger against the detail in the picture in front of him.

After about 15 minutes, and during a gap in the conversation, he looked up.

`Four`, he said, quite assertively, eyes bright, with almost child-like pride. `There are FOUR dogs in this picture`.

This is how it must be, I thought. To lose your mind. And that`s when it hits you. That the fog of dementia is becoming more dense; slowing everything down.

And here...is when it lifts you: when a shaft of light pierces through the fog. When you find that spark, that memory or talking point from many, many years before, that cranks the memory back into action.

It was one we often return to. The Harrow and Wealdstone train crash of 1952, which claimed 112 lives. Back in the mix because Phyllis had talked about a local historian`s interest in the event, and in dad`s involvement. As I`ve mentioned in an earlier blog post, dad was a young PC on duty at the time, helping casualties. They put his picture, grim faced, traumatised, in the evening paper that night.


Bizarrely, this grim story became the shaft of light on this gloomy day. It put dad centre stage again, feeling a more adult pride this time, reliving the hours spent crawling under mangled carriages, part of the team heaving up the wreckage up to free victims, crawling into the tightest spaces to offer assurances and shots of morphine to the trapped.

`I could do it`, said my dad, who`d been digging coal at 14. `Just like those mines, see? Lying on your side. Squeezing along the tunnels. Squeezing under that train.`

Sixty years before.The darkest memories. The utmost clarity.

Two days later I came home and read the excellent blog by Duncan Jones, (www.shesstillmymum.wordpress.com ).

His mum also has dementia, and he writes movingly about her decline, and the expected, but dreaded moment Duncan reached recently--suspecting, for the first time, that his mum didn`t really know who he was. Heartbreaking. And a moment you never want to experience.

I always feel I`m a few steps behind Duncan, but walking along the same route. Looking for those shafts of light in every conversation. Always wanting that twinkle of recognition in their eyes...




Comments on Twitter:


 Thank you for writing about your Dad; I lost my Mum to Alzheimer's - the longest goodbye.

Beautifully written & very moving > RT : OK it`s dementia. But don`t forget me... 


and 5 others retweeted you
         








Monday, 16 September 2013

Fridge magnets. Really?





Well OK.

It`s about fridge magnets.

Sort of.

I used to turn my nose up at them. But then....they started arriving on the fridge door...joined by various other mementoes. Some of which have been there a good long time.

Am I the only one? (Help me out here......) It`s just that some little scraps of paper make me smile.So I stick them up on the door...along with the magnets. And considering the number of times I`m in and out of the fridge every day (shut up...)....you can see why I`m generally...a very smiley person. (And have to do a lot of running....)

So: here`s the challenge. Do you have a more eclectic mix of receipts, recipes, notes, tickets, scraps of paper, pics and er....magnets than this? Or is it just me?

And never mind what`s on the shelves inside....can you (oh hell...) actually tell all you need to know about a person....from their fridge magnets? 

Thanks. Want a cheese sarnie while I`m here? Choc ice? Glass of wine........?



 (PS: Yes OK..there`s a lot about food. Well..it`s a fridge, goddamit. Cards and pics from eateries in New York,Greenwich and Shrewsbury. Stuff about losing weight next to a flyer from the fabulous Julia at Toot Sweets chocolates...... mmmmm. Magnets from Aberdovey and the Shard and from eldest daughter extolling the virtues of bad parenting. Poster about Brighton Rock, starring same, eldest daughter. OK and Dame Helen Mirren. Flyer from the fantastic Get Your Wigle On drama group for Annie....youngest daughter in it. Tickets to Manchester Airport (was off to Rome),the Rome Metro and the night boat to Normandy .Pics of Juliet and Alice now and then.A flyer about the Big Busk ((yep; still...because it was all just so brilliant )), the flower card from one of the best newsreaders in the BBC on the day I left ((he`s so sweet))....a pass to BBC TV centre to be an extra in a movie there...oh...and a recipe for a coffee mousse, not yet made).

It`s just me, isn`t it...?

Happy Monday :)

I agree a fridge can tell a lot about you... ;-)


my fridge is similarly decorated ! Lots of magnets , tickets , photos, memories of holidays, days out & happy things :)


There you go. What does that tell you? Apart from the fact that we drink too much beer?

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Summer? It`s a wrap.


The train to Manchester on Thursday was baking. I was glad to be wearing a summer skirt and T shirt. The next day, it was lashing it down on the city streets, and I was freezing on a film set. Like all the extras, I ended up borrowing a waterproof jacket and plastic poncho from the lovely wardrobe ladies. Then, late at night, I shivered all the way back to Shrewsbury.

While there might still be some gorgeous, sunny days ahead; autumn`s in the air. I wrote part of this a year ago, after a rotten summer, when we were sharpening our pencils, flogging frocks and crocs, and eyeing up supermarket stewpacks.

This year we`ve had some sizzlers. I reckon it`s easier to face the chilly weather ahead when you can still see strap marks on a fading tan.

So here are those autumn thoughts. Not least because I seem to have nearly a thousand more followers on Twitter than I did this time last year. If you`re one of them...thanks. Slide over here for some apple crumble and custard: 

I woke up today to a tweet from chef and food writer Sabrina (@SabrinaGhayour), about  how much she loves September, and the autumn `mists and mellow fruitfulness` so beloved of Keats. She even copied Ode to Autumn in her message,a poem I used to know off by heart.

Yes, it`s beautiful to feel the sun on your face, relax in your garden and run free in bare feet. But in recent days, I`ve started looking longingly at my boots again : high black suede; shiny conker brown; little ankle boots with tip tap `look at me` heels. 

Out shopping, I found myself stroking a charcoal grey angora jumper and wriggling my fingers into the tips of soft tan leather gloves. I`m longing for those Aberdovey days when I can pretend the beach is mine during a brisk walk or a bracing run against the breeze. Only after a pause for hot chocolate in a cafe overlooking the sea will I start my lazy meander over the Welsh hills to home.


Much as I love throwing open every door and window at home in the summer, months later, I still get a thrill out of battening down the hatches with a gale lashing against the glass, knowing there`s a casserole cooking and a basket of logs for the fire. I was born in December and often wonder if it`s the same for all `winter babies`.


We`re not quite there yet, mind. There`ll be apples, pears and damsons to pick, and a little cottage in Normandy to visit where the branches are already heavy with walnuts. So I`m wrapping myself up today in my softest, pinkest pashmina. The colour`s summer fuchsia. The feel is...just a gentle, warm touch of winter. Might just wear it to the beach.







Monday, 2 September 2013

Life`s little mysteries...help!


I`ve just opened a drawer and found that mystery pound coin again. The one my friends discovered down the back seat of my car on the way home from the pub. It caused much hilarity and debate, in the car, and later on Twitter. I mean...look at it.

Someone who *is* Roy, or knows him, has put his name on a pound coin. Maybe in a pub game or draw or something? Anyway, that mystery remains.So then...how did it get in my car? I know only one Roy, and he`s certainly never been near my car...especially its back seat. But I couldn`t bring myself to spend the damn thing until I`d solved the mystery.

Maybe you can.

And so while you`re at it, and as you`re probably brighter than me , I`d love it if you could also throw some light on other apparently simple things...that I just don`t get.

1) Men who strim every sodding tree; every week. Let it grow. Or help me patent a device that plays nice funky tunes instead of the motor noise, so that I can dance while you strim.

2) People who really dawdle when they`re approaching a red traffic light (and hold everyone up.....) because they can`t be arsed to change down through the gears and put the handbrake on.

3) Motorists who drive round multi-storey carparks with their ticket in their mouth.

4) People who get their tiny baby`s ears pierced.

5) Hotels which don`t have power points near the bed to recharge your morning- alarmed phone. Now I`ve got to pad across the room when it rings, see?

6) Postmen who are still driving round in Salford Van Hire vehicles instead of Royal Mail red ones. What`s going on?

7) Weight. How come it goes on so much faster than it ever comes off.

8) People who aren`t on the transplant register. It ain`t gonna hurt you. But it could save lives.

9) Drivers who don`t put their lights on at dusk and dawn. The meter won`t run out, you know.

10) People who say: "Is it cold...or is it me..?"  If you`re cold, you`re cold.


Help me with any of that? Or...what`s puzzling you today? Please unfurrow my brow, because I can`t afford Botox and wouldn`t do that anyway. (OK: 11) People who do Botox

Happy Monday!! :)










Thursday, 29 August 2013

Sleepless in Leeds


...I don`t need a rock DJ.

Not when I`m sleeping in the hotel opposite his club, and my alarm`s set for 4.30am, I don`t.

It all looked great when I arrived mid afternoon, of course. It was bright and sunny, and close to some fabulous shops. Only a couple had PVC catsuits and whips in the window, so the area wasn`t *that* bad.

The reception staff were really welcoming. They gave me an immediate upgrade to a `Kingsize` room, with a gorgeously large and comfy bed; oh, and free wine, which I necked. I know why they were so generous, now, but at the time I was delighted with it all, and slightly squiffy, so I dumped my bags and headed (slightly sideways...) for the (better known) shops.

A couple of hours later, laden with bags and a sobering Starbucks, I went to relax in my boudoir. I ran a gloriously bubbly bath, watched Sarah Beeny doubling the size of someone`s house, booked a cab for crazy-early, set two alarm clocks, and thought about dozing off.

Sometimes...you get double glazing so that you can shut out the world, don`t you? And air-con, so you don`t then swelter in the summer. But this was a hotel booked in a hurry. For `air-con`: read `ceiling fan`. It whirred rather ominously, so I switched it off and pulled open the sash window. Just an inch or two.

You know those nights when you really, really need to sleep because you have an early start?

Well by 9 pm, Leeds seemed pretty much at full pelt ...and I was in the thick of it.The DJ was hammering those decks; the punters were singing along; apart from the ones who were *chatting outside*. Loudly. There was a whole heap of showing off. Small hatchbacks at full throttle were tearing up and down the main street; keen to impress. Column upon column of click -clack heels marched by, with much hilarious laughter.

The DJ`s set got more eclectic. And louder still. An Abba mix. Really. Then House. Then Horse. Two of them. Mounted police; patrolling the streets. Sheesh. Sometime after 3, someone pulled the plug on the rock DJ, and the heels started clickclacking home.Armies of them, followed by huge, noisy tanks. Roadsweepers, I think, clearing up who knows what. Oh hang on, yep, probably the police horse poo.

Peace again. I got about fifteen minutes. Bliss.

Then the drayman arrived at the bar opposite. Ugly big lorry. Effing great barrels, which, not content with having been rolled out all night, were now being dragged and scraped down the pavement for the next night`s revellers.

He drove off. I shut my eyes again. JUST in time for the 4.30 alarm. You have to laugh, really , don`t you? I mean really, if I`d had heels and a dress instead of a bag load of hiking gear for the next day`s filming, I`d have joined them. Leeds is a brilliant city.

Twelve hours later; that filming was finished, and seven of us were in a Landrover, hurtling back down the steep track through stunning Yorkshire moorland , back to base. Knackered? I should`ve been. But we`d spent an afternoon high on a windy hill with a 360 degree view of some of the most breathtaking countryside you could ever see, shooting a brilliant new drama--one fabulous, professional, caring film crew and a great mix of extras, from all walks of life, swapping life stories over a delivered feast of sandwiches, cakes, fruit and chocolate. Delicious. Look out for me on the telly. I`m the one with the big happy smile....and the dark rings under her eyes :)




Monday, 19 August 2013

Rhubarb. And custard.


Ever wonder about all the faces in the crowd you see on the TV or in movies? Who are they? How do they get there? How much do they get paid--and do they ever get to rub shoulders with the stars? After leaving my radio producer`s job with the BBC, I signed up with three agencies for fun, really, and seem to pop up quite regularly now in anything from prime time soaps to feature films. Want the inside story on the stars? Buy one of those weekly mags. Extras are sworn to secrecy. So...this is the latest instalment on the `ordinary` people ....whose names you never get to know.....



Miming looks so easy, doesn`t it?

You just speak--without the sound.

That`s what I thought before I started working as a film and TV extra. Then you hear the words: `.....aaaaaaaaaand.....ACTION...`  and you realise you probably should have sorted out your game plan first.

You`re not important,but you might be `in shot`...so you have to say something. Anything, really, but remember people can lip-read, so nothing saucy. And it`s no good `talking` at the same time as the person you`ve been paired up with. That would look daft.

In my eight months as a TV and film extra, I`ve just been whispering stuff very quietly, and nodding and smiling a bit. It`s gone down OK. I`ve tried the technique in Corrie, Emmerdale, a couple of feature films, a Japanese soft drinks advert, an ITV drama series, a kids` show and a comedy or two. And I haven`t been chucked out yet.

But the other day, I met and married Graham. Sort of. It was a two day `marriage of convenience` for the purposes of a prime time soap. And I realised he was a bit of an expert in the art of talking --no, miming--complete and utter rhubarb.

The stars were filming a few metres away. This was a real `longshot`. Nevertheless, `my husband and I` got placed on a sumptuous sofa in the garden room of the location--an exquisite country house hotel. Before us, on a low table, two porcelain cups and saucers, and a solid silver coffee pot,along with sugar bowl, tongs and spoons. Graham was given his `prop`--a mere newspaper. That left me with the challenge of pouring, stirring, and handing over his cup....silently.

`......aaaaaaaand...ACTION!`

I needn`t have worried. One command and Graham was off. As I gestured towards the coffee pot, with a carefully raised eyebrow (order my Oscar now...) he smiled, nodded, and then got into his stride.. jabbing at an article in the paper, shaking his head and tutting as quietly as anyone could....and then....mouthing complete and utter twaddle. Bits of words. Snatches of sentences. I realised I was frowning to work out what the devil he was saying. Until ....`CUT! `restored his power of intelligible speech. Actually, it was quite masterful and I`ll try his technique next time.

Graham was just one of a lovely bunch on set that day. His background was, ironically, in the world of real soap--the froth n` bubble variety. He`d been an executive for a major company based in Africa. Between shoots, I heard all kinds of tales, about luxury living, raising a family thousands of miles from home, and resettling back in Blighty.

He swapped hair-raising stories with Peter, who knew Nigeria well. Jason was there too--a mature drama school student who`d reassessed his life after nearly losing it in a holiday balcony fall. There was Johnny, an ex forces pilot, and lovely Michael from the Wirral, one of dozens of retired police officers who seem to find their way into extras work. Over two days we acted (a bit), chatted (a lot), watched a lively soap storyline being filmed in a gorgeous setting, got paid...and got incredibly well fed.

 In fact--they feed you so well, sometimes, that it can be a struggle to manage your tray, loaded with plates, dishes and cutlery, and your bag, and heels, often, down the steps from the catering truck and then up into the extras` double decker diner.... which is where the custard came in....or out, really, dribbling dangerously over the edge of Liverpudlian Pauline`s dish, curling over the edge of her slightly sloping tray and funnelling neatly into a tiny gap in her handbag, before reaching into its murky depths and spreading itself over the contents.

Messy for Pauline, but she laughed; we all did--then tidied ourselves up and got back on set: a bus load of shadows behind the stars...clocking up another (sometimes sticky ) day in the life of an extra.

+ Fancy being an extra too? Want to hear about the `extra` I met on Coronation Street, who works in between lifesaving dialysis treatments? Click on `Life as an extra` under Topics (up there on the right)...and see some hints and tips on getting started. Make sure you come and say hello if you see me on set !  :)







Thursday, 1 August 2013

Coal, koalas and a dad with dementia


Who cares? Well, you do, when your baby`s new. Every blinkin moment. Later in life, when you`re old and infirm, maybe those roles will be reversed.

It`s a perfect blend of pride and panic, isn`t it,when they hand your newborn over.You`re completely responsible for every nanosecond of their life. And you really don`t have a clue how you`ll cope. It`s like starting a brand new job in a blindfold. Terrifying. But you feel your way. Learn as you go. And the rewards just keep on coming.

Not that there aren`t screamingly manic moments along the way. Those supermarket toddler tantrums when everyone stares.That aching tiredness from a week of sleepless nights. The fraught mornings when you`re late for the school run; late for work, your youngest is wearing two left shoes and is massaging a dollop of strawberry jam through her long hair like a Trevor Sorbie conditioning treatment. Oh and the car won`t start.And when it does,alongside the revs, is the gleeful repetition of the F word that she heard you scream. Been there?

Years down the line...they help you a bit in return, don`t they? Show you how to synch your i-phone and stuff. Download music. Retrieve lost files.They know you need their help. So it`s their turn to provide it.

There was more of that role reversal thing in New York last summer. I was standing alone in Times Square while the girls `finished` their shopping. (This was a lie. It never ends). I was completely absorbed as a television team filmed some interviews. And while I watched them work, one of the camera crew had apparently been watching me. He ambled over. And invited me to a party.Yes I know he was probably a complete creep but I felt strangely flattered. I mean...it was New York! And as I opened my mouth to reply...I heard my voice, my tone, only younger. My 14 year old had returned silently, peeped over my shoulder, clocked the date on the invite and told the bloke: " She can`t. She`s flying home tomorrow."

One day, maybe, I`ll be glad she`s looking out for me. I saw dad today. He lives three hours away. He`s 83 and has Alzheimer`s. We had coffee and sandwiches, and posh cookies from M and S. Only a few years ago, we`d have spent those two hours laughing endlessly about our shared family memories, or sparring over politics, fighting to get a word in edgeways. Now, the task of remembering what he had for breakfast is a challenge. And there are no questions back. No natural dialogue. His once razor sharp mind has been dulled; dumbed down, by dementia.

You sometimes get a flash of those long held memories though. They`re moments to cherish. Like the day I rang, and told him I`d spent the day by the sea. He broke into a near perfect rendition of Sea Fever, by Masefield; which was pretty stunning.

How many pictures does his monochrome mind retain now, though? Can he see himself as the 14 year old following his dad and grandad into the same Scottish coalmine..because that`s `what they did` in those days? Can he recapture the moment when he decided to get out of the dark, study hard, leave the village and take his first ever trip to London on the sleeper down to King`s Cross? How terrified was he on his first day on the beat as a London bobby in Harrow Road, with that stiff, scratchy collar and an accent no-one understood? How often now, does he compare those days with what was to come--selection for an amazing, elite role which saw him travelling the world, in private jets sometimes, destined for sparkling palaces.No coal. No dust. No crawling through low, dark tunnels because that`s `what you did`.

Even though he hardly ever got a break on those trips abroad, he`d always find local markets and buy gifts
for us. Today I could remind him about how much pleasure they gave us: Koalas from Canberra; trinkets from Katmandhu; hippy scarves from San Francisco. There were African dolls made of black cotton and raffia, with baskets full of fruit on their heads, silver bangles and turquoise rings from Mexico; grass skirted dolls and rows of beads from Tonga-- no one got `business trip` gifts like the ones our dad brought back; and the stories about the places he`d seen were worth a million geography lessons.


Even when he had to spend weeks at Balmoral in Scotland one year, and summer turned to autumn, he gathered dozens of different leaves from the local woodlands, and stuck them in two, identical books; one for me, one for my sister, with all the tree names labelled, so we could get a sense of the glorious changing season around him. You could smell the pine and squeeze the little Rowan berries till the juice spurted out.

Today, when it was time for them to take me to the station, I helped him on with his coat. Found his walking stick. Remembered his tough,tall presence beside me at all kinds of moments in my life. Today it was a frail frame leaning on me,as we walked tentatively to the car.That blend of panic and pride I felt as a new parent was back again.Fear, this time, about what lies ahead for dad. But so much pride about his past.