London Loves – Part 2.

In the morning, we woke up a bit blurry headed, and so more tea was had, and after a post-mortem on the shenanigans of the night before, we headed off in the car to a National Trust place called Morden Hall Park, and met with Fenella’s friend Sally, who among a great many other lovely things is a dog-walker and dog-sitter. She is also a trainer and can help owners with dogs with behavioural problems. Sally had nine dogs with her: Fenella’s two, her own two, and five more of her clients’ dogs. It was great fun, strolling through the park with all these assorted dogs. They’re all wonderfully behaved and so were allowed off the lead, and I made a special friend in Hattie, a little old Staffie lady, who believes she is a princess and is quite above all this hanging around with filthy mutts. Once all the dogs had had a good run and a swim in the River Wandle, he headed for the caff, and had some lovely grub, coffee and a chin wag. At this point the dogs were tethered to a fence, and sat so beautifully, that Sally hardly had time to eat because of all the people coming over to compliment her on such a lovely pack of woofs.

We took Fenella’s dogs back to the house and relaxed for while, with a cuppa. I was starting to feel blue about having to go back that afternoon, having had such a great time. Reality’s such a bitch at times. Fenella enquired about which train I had to catch and I explained that I had an open ticket, so I could catch any off-peak train between then and December. Then she made a suggestion. Since I didn’t have work until Friday, why didn’t I stay another night and go with her to work? She explained it might be a bit dull to hang out at Radio2 for a whole evening, but I was welcome to come and go as I pleased. Blimey. AS IF hanging out at Radio2 would be dull! AS IF! Outwardly, I was composed and being quite cool about the whole thing, “Yeah, I suppose that’d be alright…”, but inwardly I was wooping, punching the air and high fiving myself… if of course, that were possible.

As we got in the vicinity of Western House, we stopped to eat at a lovely little Thai canteen, and had Phat Thai, spring rolls and tempura vegetables, washed down with tins of fizzy pop. Bliss. We headed off then, and were quickly whizzed through security once we were in the building. I was given a pass that says, “BBC Visitor” which gave instructions to return it upon departure. I have to admit to still having mine, and yes I realise this makes me deeply uncool. The lift up to the correct floor is absolutely tiny, but before I could continue with my fantasy of being trapped in there with Huey Morgan, we arrived.

Busily Fenella gathered up the papers and documents and bits and pieces she needed to do her first bulletin, and as i sat there feeling a bit wowed about it all, Sally Traffic popped in to say hello. Then with the six o’clock news over with, we went for a wander. We stood and gawped at Simon Mayo through glass for a bit, listened to Bob Harris talk about bum cancer from Nashville and then went to get a cuppa. I was making myself feel useful by carrying some papers round for Fenella and increasingly felt like Baby Houseman, when she carried a watermelon. “It’s okay, I’m carrying papers you know…”. I then met Steve Wright who is a) more dashing than I imagined and b) really very lovely indeed. The sort of person who is so smashing, you feel that you’d like to hug him. I didn’t though, rest assured.

After a bit of a natter with Steve (first name terms, see?) we set up in his studio so that Fenella could do the remainder of her bulletins from there. What I hadn’t realised was that after a certain time at night, instead of filing ones nails, shopping online or practicing a golf putting technique with the aid of a coffee mug, the news presenter is actually in control of the ENTIRE station. So every segue, link, programme and back-up programme (I probably have the technical names all wrong, but you get the idea) on that evening, were entirely as the mercy of two red heads, who 24 hours before had been in a nightclub, arms aloft, yawping, “So let me go faaaaaarrrrrrrrr!” at the tops of our voices. Now obviously as a visitor I did very little except make tea for me, Fenella and Trevor Nelson (Trev’s producer was new that night, and couldn’t get the hang of the machine) and collect news scripts from a printer. However, the idea of duct taping Fenella to a chair and taking over the airwaves for my own evil purposes did cross my mind.

At about half eleven, and after five bulletins, alot of BBC tea and much gossiping, Janice Long came in. Now it had all been exciting and wonderful (except going to the loo straight after Jo Whiley and finding the seat warm) but this was the best bit. I love Janice, and having met her in person and chatted a while, I love her even more. She is where it’s at. She is passionate about music, really properly knows her stuff and knocks many of these young pretenders of broadcasting into a cocked hat. It was an absolute pleasure to meet her. What made it even more of a pleasure was when Janice began her programme with a little on-air chat to Fenella, who had just delivered the midnight bulletin. “Thanks Fenella, so how was the Dodgy gig?” she asked. “Great thank you Janice”, replied Fenella, and continued to tell her a bit about the gig and how good the music had been. “That’s great Fenella. And was Clair from Crewe there?…”. Blimey. A mention from Janice Long, who was sitting just feet away, smiling at me through several sheets of glass. SQUEEEE!

Anyway, hometime. A swish looking car with blacked out windows was waiting outside Western House for us, and transported us back to Fenella’s, like proper celebs (or drug dealers, take your pick). It was about 1am when we got back, and so straight to bed. Fenella explained that we had an early start tomorrow, and so I set my alarm for 8am.

I was up and at ’em by 8:30, and we caught a train to Victoria just after 9. My host was a bit concerned about me, a provincial type, travelling through the capital at rush hour, but it was fine. Nothing to it, just busy, that’s all. We said quick goodbyes on a delayed and slow moving Victoria line tube, as Fenella got off at Oxford Circus, and I continued on to Euston. Once there, I found the next train I could take was almost an hour away, but that was okay because t gave me time to grab a coffee, acclimatise myself to reality and de-Londonise. Ann rang to catch up on each other’s gossip, and it was just the loveliest way to feel like I was going home.

I had a wonderful time, was really glad to have seen great friends and to have made new ones, and to have had some truly money-can’t-buy experiences. A great gig, a lot of love, a kick through the leaves in a pretty park, a fantastic and generous host for my stay and to have been able to learn so much about one of my favourite things in life: radio. Enormous thank yous to everyone who made that possible.

And that’s why I love London again.


London Loves – Part 1.

I’ve fallen back in love with London. It comes and goes in fits and starts, but at the moment London and I are having a very deep and meaningful affair.

The first time I really truly fell in love with London was almost exactly three years ago, sitting on a bench on the South Bank, looking out at the water. I had hot chocolate because it was so cold, and there was a mist rolling along, so that I could barely see to the other side. Then just as if I had been dropped into a film set, an old man sat on a fold away chair in front of us, took a cello out of its case, and began to play Chopin’s Etude Op25 No7.

I cried and cried and cried.

But then there have been visits to London that have just been grubby and disappointing, and my terrible dislike (sphincter-clenching phobia) of downward escalators has sometimes stopped me from doing all the exploring that I have wanted to, via the Underground. However, this terrible dislike (ahem) seems to be fading, and I’ve even bought an Oyster card in the last few weeks. Increasingly, I feel like I belong there, although London is probably not as thrilled as I am by this concept.

This time, I was doing everything just right. I had scoped out the cheapest possible tickets between here and Euston (£23.50, open return! It’d cost me more than that in butties if I walked it!), booked them in advance and arranged to meet friends from all over the city (get me!) in a lovely pub recommended by my mate Roussety. I had also got my bed for the night at Fenella’s place, which she affectionately refers to as The Crack Den, but which in fact is BEEYOOTEEFULL. I stepped off the train at Euston, wandered casually across the station, stuck a tenner on me Oyster card (which for some reason makes me feel very grown up), took a DOWNWARD ESCALATOR (oh yes!) to the Underground trains and travelled on the Northern line to Leicester Square. I know roughly where I’m going in that area, so I took myself for a bimble round, to Londonise myself a bit.

I was disappointed to note that Leicester Square is STILL a bloody building site (what ARE they doing in there?) and so headed for Charing Cross Road. I stopped off for a lump of choccy cake and a coffee in a Cafe Rouge, which seemed to annoy my waitress intensely. You’d think I had just ordered baby brains and nun’s blood, the way she looked at me, but I decided that being mocked by the French is character building, and continued to slurp at my beverage. I left most of the cake though. I know, right? Me! Leaving cake! And it was quite delicious, but I will admit to being a bit of a giddy kipper, and I had started to get excited butterflies in my tummy.

The butterflies were for a number of reasons. Firstly, they were there because I was about to see some of the very, very loveliest people in my life, all of whom are people I don’t see nearly enough of. Secondly, I was going to see Dodgy play their new album in its entirety in London, which is really a sort of homecoming gig for them. I love Dodgy for many reasons. Primarily because they’re my mates, and I am just heart achingly proud of my best boys, but also because they’re really, really fucking good. They always were, and their new material is definitely worthy of a Mercury nomination. Definitely.

So I met Fenella, Gordon, John Devine, John Roussety and Julia in The Angel, nextdoor to St Giles in the Fields church. What a beautifully preserved pub! I half expected to hear an air-raid siren go off, and Nicholas Lyndhurst walk in, wearing a Trilby and overcoat. Once everyone had arrived, the terrible business of getting pissed had to be addressed, and we made quite good inroads within a very short space of time. I really cannot remember why, but at one point I thought I was going to have a stroke, because Gordon declared (fictitiously) that he had once fingered David Bowie.

At the correct moment, the remains of our drinks were downed, and we traipsed off to The Bowery. I have just remembered that I linked arms with Mr Roussety all the way there, because his coat looked warmest. Ever the Girl Guide. Upon arrival, we were ushered to a table to say our names to the lady, who would then check lists and stamp our hands. I was at the head of the queue and the seven-foot bouncer said, “You have to join the queue”. I explained that I had, and even demonstrated it by indicating towards my feet to show where I was standing, and then to my friends behind me to indicate the remainder of the queue. He rolled his eyes (I rolled them back – it seemed polite) and added, “No, you have to join the back of the queue”. I explained that ‘the queue’ constituted my friends and no-one else, and therefore we were all together as one party, but no. Igor had spoken and until Master had flicked the switch marked ‘logic’, the queue was going nowhere until I moved to the back. When I got the front again, I smiled at the lady with the clipboard and said that I would be on the guest list. She looked and exclaimed, “Oh yes! You’re at the top of the list actually! Sorry…”, and gave Igor a withering look. I tried to form my features into a face which said, “I will NOT be writing kindly about this in my London clubs column in the Independent!”, but realising I had drunk a whole orchard’s worth of cider, it probably looked more like, “Heheheheheeee HIC!”.

Downstairs, in the room where the gig was being held, I looked around, spied a great spot for us all to stand, and headed that way. As I crossed what was essentially a tiny dancefloor, I passed Math, we hugged hello and he headed directly for the stage. Bloody hell, how’s THAT for timing!! I hadn’t even got me coat off and the gig began. Perfect. Dodgy’s new album “Stand Upright In A Cool Place” is fast becoming one of my all time favourite albums. I have only heard it live, except for a few recorded snippets that have been made available here and there, and I am absolutely dying to get my copy, to have, cherish, listen to over and over, and learn word for word, and chord for chord. The tone of the album, the subject matter and the musical style could not be more perfect for me, right now, at this very stage of my life. And here I was, watching three of my favourite people playing some of my favourite music of all time, surrounded by some of my best friends, in one of the greatest cities in the world. That realisation hit as I sang along to ‘Only A Heartbeat’, and I don’t mind admitting that there may have been a moistening of the eyes. For me, that’s what it’s all about, and without those moments, life would be pretty shit.

After Dodgy’s new album set, a support band called The Rise came on. They were unexpectedly good. I say it like that because as people wandered off to the bar, or for a natter, or for a smoke, The Rise started to play, and people were looking at each other, saying “Bloody hell, these are GOOD!”, and going back in to watch. I watched a bit of their set, but in the end we went outdoors to smoke and natter to people. We were introduced to all kinds of lovely people we had heard of through old Dodgy tales of yore, and people whose names and photos we’d seen on Facebook, but here they were in real life to say hello to! I met some great folks, especially Ray, Mick and Vanessa, and at one stage I was chatting away to a lady I had danced with earlier, and Math came out and exclaimed, “Christ! I cannot believe YOU two are chatting to one another!”, although I am still not sure why. Must remember to ask. It felt like the new Dodgy family was meeting the old Dodgy family, and there was a LOT of love about. We all very much came away with a collective feeling of having been to a big old love-in. And I know what you’re thinking, but no. Not even the tiniest of Garys. Good eh?!

Back downstairs for the second of Dodgy’s sets, and the place was bouncing. All the greatest hits were played, everyone’s favourites and crowd pleasers, and it was brilliant. Dancing and singalongs aplenty. There was a point at which Nigel made up an impromptu two verse song, while Andy tuned up. At the end of the song he said, “Sorry, it’s only short”. Now, I tried with every fibre of my being, but my comedy timing gland was in overdrive, so I replied, “That’s what SHE said!”. Quite a lot of people heard. Some laughed. But Nigel gave me one of those stern looks that only someone with experience of placing minors on a naughty step can give. “Chappeeerrrrrs….”. Ooops.

Afterwards the party raged on and Ray continued to tell everyone who would listen that he is fifty-one. “I’m fifty-one you know, I am!”  I felt compelled to compliment him on how well and fresh-faced he looked, despite his years and the ravages of rock and roll. This encouraged him further. “Yeah, I know, I’ve looked after myself, see. Fifty-one you know…” Bless. Photographs were taken (none of which were in the least bit sensible or attractive), goodbyes were said, and eventually, after a really very lovely night out, Fenella and I decided to head back to her house.

We got literally yards before some friendly voices shouted from behind us. “Oi! Wait up!”, and we turned round to find Nigel and his nephew Chris, hot on our heels. Collectively we decided that Burger King was the very place to be and so settled in for more silliness over beanburgers, Whoppers and coffees. Marvellous. We left the boys to drive back to Malvern, and we ladies (ahem) caught the last Brixton train, which isn’t nearly as edgy as it sounds. Once back to base, I seem to recall there were cups of tea before bed and happy slumber.

Remember, Remember…

…the fifth of November. And what a night it was. No gunpowder, not much treason and very little plot (that was lost years ago), but definitely an awful lot of booze.

I had spent the afternoon relaxing and nattering with my Mum and was invited down to Stafford to hang out with Ann. Her daughter Tilly was staying at her friend’s house and so Ann and I had an opportunity to pop out to a local pub for a quiet one. Once RBS had got their act together and decided to reboot their digital banking system (“Have you tried switching it off and switching it back on again?”), I was good to go, and whizzed down the M6 like a whizzy thing. I did however take care not to be too whizzy as some people had just that afternoon perished in an enormous pile-up on the M5. Eeep.

I got to Ann’s and was greeted by two enormous breasts and a French Martini. While the breasts were quite lovely, it was the Martini that impressed me most. There is a distinct possibility that I kissed the glass and said, “Come to Mama”, but I couldn’t possibly confirm or deny this. Ann’s French Martinis are perfection. Vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and a tiny dash of vanilla. Deeeeelishuss. Two Martinis in, it became apparent that it was going to be ‘one of those nights’. I thought it wisest to put make up on, just in case. Ann did the same, we scrubbed up lovely.

By this stage we had a boogie playlist blasting through Ann’s iPad, and we were dancing like Pan’s People wished they could dance, round Ann’s living room. Then we made a tactical switch to Southern Comfort. I was called a number of less than politically incorrect names for asking for Coke with mine; Ann necks hers straight. She’s nails. Hard as. And then red wine, with Coke. I decided that since it looked like we were going embark on a bit of binge drinking, I’d better charge my phone up and take some photos. I leaned over to plug my charger in, draped my favourite animal print scarf into a lit scented candle and set fire to it. As I patted out the flames, Ann proceeded to wet herself on the settee. While she was crossing her legs, rolling around and crying a bit, I tried to raise awareness of the potential seriousness of the incident by shouting, “Ann! There was an actual flame! An ACTUAL flame!”, which served only to send my companion further into hysteria. With friends like her…

Having recovered from my near-death experience (which Ann still insists is one of the funniest things she’s ever seen with her own eyes) and found the funny side of the two holes that were now melted into my scarf, we decided it was best to get out of the house and treat the good people of Stafford to the Annie & Chappers Roadshow. Those lucky, lucky people. We got a taxi (our driver was George, who was amused, but not really joining in) and not knowing what the best watering holes in Stafford were, we said for him to drop us off at the first one we came to. The Shrewsbury Arms.

Now then, at first glance “The Shrew” looks a bit weird. My first impression was, “It looks like the Slaughtered Lamb off American Werewolf. If we walk in here and everyone turns round and stares, I’m off”. We opened the doors, Ann fell over a bar stool, shouted “SHIT!”, and everyone turned round and stared. So in the much respected style of Aveline Boswell, we just smiled and shouted, “Hiya!” to our new audience. A man with a tattooed face said to Ann, “So, are you from Liverpool then?” and Ann replied (in the broadest Toxteth you have ever heard), “What the fuck do you think, Einstein?”. It could have gone either way frankly, but everyone laughed, and within seconds we had free Jagerbombs, a snug full of new mates, a handshake and a welcome from the publicans, and an official introduction to the pub’s pets (a cockatoo that bites and an iguana called Iggy).

While the welcome was warm and the craic was outstanding, we decided not to stay, and see what other pub based adventures we could have in Stafford. We wandered along and ended up in Joxer Brady’s. As we walked in, we heard a guitar and a singer and gave each other that look: we’ve hit the mother lode, we’re here to stay. Among many areas of compatibility, Ann and I have discovered a lot of our musical ‘likes’ are similar. We have also discovered we both like watching hot men sing and play songs, and that we both like getting pissed. So when we found ourselves in a very nice pub, with a red wine & Coke each (we like to think of it as a winter spritzer), and a very pretty Irish boy playing all our favourites, we had to check we hadn’t died and gone to Heaven.

Luckily, our fears of a premature deliverance to St Peter were quickly allayed. As we walked into the back room to get a better view of the entertainment, I was pounced upon by a man who looked like the love-child of Michael Stipe and Gollum. This was proof, if any were needed, that this was not the after-life. However, Gollum/Stipe was a great laugh and Ann and I danced and sang along and got the rest of the pub off their arses too. Turned out to be a great gig for Yer Man too, despite him refusing to sing rebel songs, because “England’s been good to me”. Hm.

As the music ended (which, after a number of encores, only happened when our hero broke a string) Ann and I staggered into the bar. I went over to buy us another couple of drinks “for the road” while Ann got busy with her organisational skills and her iPhone, and ordered usa taxi home and a kebab. I swear, given enough lip gloss, hairspray and carbohydrates, Ann could rule the world with that phone.

While she did all that, I chatted up a very good-looking, one-armed man at the bar. I mean he was hot, had the cute beard thing going on, the twinkly eyes and a lovely accent. He lived in Stafford but came from somewhere in Lancashire originally. Don’t know where. Anyway, his lower right arm was missing, which is quite a distinguishing feature in anyone’s book, and so if you happen to know him, and he happens to be single, point him in this direction? Cheers.

JUST as I thought I was getting somewhere with this guy (although I was so fucked at this stage, there is a good chance he was just tolerating me to be polite, or was just plain scared), Ann came over to remind me that I went to get drinks half an hour ago, the taxi had arrived and it was time we left. I necked the red wine I had purchased, Ann downed hers too, and we staggered off into the night.

Along the route home, we attempted to convince the taxi driver that we needed to get home quickly. Instead of admitting that this was because we had kebab-based loveliness on its way, we told him that it was because we were due to do a live-feed show from Ann’s house, for Babestation. Our driver laughed. Now I’m still not sure if that was because there were two well-upholstered women on his back-seat and he thought it unlikely that we were telling the truth, but by the time we had got home he was actually crying. Might have been because I told him my minge looks like Hagrid. Who knows.

Shoes off, telly on, another drink poured, kebab delivered, feet up. We were still laughing and still doing a post-mortem on the night into the early hours of November 6th.

Eight hours later, we were up and nursing hangovers, and being soothed by mugs of tea and Noel Gallagher on the BBC red button thingy. Lovely.

“But ANN! It was an ACTUAL flame!”

Spooky Samhain.

I’m not normally one for Halloween. I dislike the way it now seems to be sponsored by Haribo and is mainly an excuse for hordes of teenagers to beg for sweets and cash with menaces. There I’ve said it.

This year I was invited to do it properly, with applewood bonfires, purification from the bad luck of the last months, offerings to the Ancestors and welcoming the dark months (for without dark, there can be no light). In addition to this, there was cake, booze and dirty joke telling, which as far as I’m concerned is what makes Paganism so brilliant. Actually, I’ll go so far as to say that they are three of the things that make LIFE brilliant.

Ken and Lucy O’Malley-Local were our hosts, along with their daughter Sassy. I was invited along with Marie and Paul Bentall and their son Kian. It became apparent that it was going to be a great night, when Ken answered the door to us, dressed as a bearded crone, complete with pipe and headscarf. Marvellous. I am pleased to say his wife looked rather sexier as a saucy corsetted pirate lady, complete with bandana.

Drinks were poured, music was played and the kids were taken for a spot of trick or treat action (not that I approve, but I did steal a chewy lolly or two, just for safety test purposes you understand). Afterwards we were fed and given another metric fuckton of booze (note pattern starting to form) and were encouraged outdoors for fireworks and bonfire lighting.

Now then, you know how they always tell you to keep your fireworks away from flammable materials in case they ignite and start a great big fire? Well, the plan was to use that risk and turn it to our advantage. The fireworks were set into the unlit bonfire and set off, in the hope that they would cause the paper, kindling and recently collected wood to spring into impressive and fiery action, and that it would be spectacular. No fucking chance.

The fireworks worked, but no fire. It took another half an hour, ALL of Ken and Lucy’s newspaper recycling, another bag of kindling, a tube of Pringles, a gallon of petrol and a napalm thrower to get it going. However, we persevered (a pyro like me will never give up on the possibility of a fire) and eventually a lovely fire burned.

Lucy lit candles and tealights at her garden altar and all the correct things were said to please the dead and to invoke loveliness upon the assembled boozers. I wish I knew what those blessings were, so that I could relate them to you, but I’m afraid I was very, very drunk. Just rest assured there were no goat sacrifices and no boiling of babies, although we did come very close to roasting a Jack Russell…

As the night air cooled, we wandered indoors and sat around Lucy’s kitchen table and attacked more of the food and booze. There were River Cottage vegetable pasties (as made by the Bentalls) and sexy cake (as made by Ken, who is a cakey genius). There was great hunks of tiger bread and ooooh I’m going to stop now before I get accused of upsetting people’s pre-crimbo LBD diets or something. Let’s just say it was carb heaven, and did a lovely job of a) soaking up the boozes, and b) making me sleepy.

So, after we had collectively put the world to rights, bitched about shit witches, talked bollocks and told more dirty jokes, it was time for home.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve never been one for Halloween, but from now on, give me Samhain and sexy cake at the O’Malley-Local house, every year. The Ancestors would definitely approve.

Socks Appeal.

It’s that time of year when I am in the dreadful footwear quandry of the 36-year-old woman. What to wear? I am mostly a flip-flop person. A few childhood years spent in South Africa have shaped my hatred of having my feet enclosed, although strangely throughout my teens I was rarely seen without Dr Marten boots. As a result of wearing either nothing or something that resembles orthopedic rambler’s shoes, my feet have a distrust of the shoe. This year I discovered Fit-Flops, and that was like discovering walking again for the first time. So comfortable.

I am yet to understand what pleasure there is in having one’s toes squashed together. Why must I have my heels rubbed and not complain? Why blisters? WHY? I really don’t have a clue why a huge number of my friends have (in these Sex And The City enlightened years) become obsessed with the perilous heels, pointy toes and pinchy straps of Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik and Kurt Geiger, when they look just as great to me in Converse All-Stars and Birkenstocks. But that’s just me.

There is a whole market out there for foot remedies, cool patches, blister proofing, comfort cushions and all manner of relief for people who choose to ruin their feet in this way. But you know what is the saddest thing? They’re almost all marketed to women. They all have daisies and butterflies on the packaging, and not spanners and fishing rods (well if they will have their stereotypes, I’ll have mine). So why aren’t men afflicted in this way? Because they’re not wearing ridiculous shoes to impress anyone. That’s why. As long as a man’s shoes are fairly ‘with it’ and relatively clean, we’re usually happy, right? So why do women quite literally still feel the need to injure themselves in order to be attractive?

I’m lucky in that I have a fairly robustly upholstered chest, and so not many people notice my feet. Sometimes, they don’t notice my face either, but that’s often for the best too. However, I have never ever, not once heard two blokes talking saying something along the lines of, “She’s lovely, but her shoes are just so last season..”, or even, “What a pretty girl, but I won’t be asking her out, her heels aren’t high enough, and that wedge needs to be in a blue patent..”. Never, not once.

So with the spiky shoe fashion being a big no-no, ‘shoes’ basically means ‘flatties’ to me. In this in-between season where there’s a chill in the air, and yet the sun’s still shining, the choice is: a) flip-flops and chance the weather, b) shoes, or b) boots. It’s too warm yet for boots (for me anyway). Flip-flops will sadly have to go back in the cupboard soon. Which leaves flat shoes.

I inadvertently opened up a whole kettle of fish on this issue this morning on Facebook. The thing is, how does one (as a woman in her 30s or 40s) wear a shoe without looking like a twat? Boots are easy, you bung socks on, pull the boot up and they go under or over everything. But flat shoes are a weird no-mans-land. Youngsters (God, I sound like my Granny) wear leggings or slim jeans on their lovely legs, and ballet style flatties or brogues for a gamine look, but they all seem to have no socks and an Elastoplast or two hanging out of their heel. As a woman of a certain age and (ahem) shape, what do I do?

The idea of wearing a shoe without the protection of some kind of hosiery fills me with horror. I will not tolerate foot torture, that is out of the question. So what are the options? Socks are great but does it give the right impression if you’re in a business meeting with one of Primark‘s fluffy finest poking out between shoe and trouser leg? And what if you’re a skirt wearer? Short skirts mean you absolutely MUST wear tights which never fit very well, or stockings which automatically make you feel like you should be doing it roughly, over a canteen table. What if you just want to be comfortable? Long skirts hide a bit more leg, but even so, they still reveal too much ankle to make socks an option. Aaaargh!

No woman in her right mind would still wear tights under trousers. It’s not something I’ve ever done, but I’ve heard of the upsetting things it does to people’s undercarriages, needing the topical application of ointments. Ouch. So in terms of The Shoe, we’ve found issue with trousers and socks, trousers and tights, skirts and socks, skirts and tights, skirts and stockings. And that leaves one last option. Trousers and… The Pop Sock. Oh Christ no, not the pop sock…

I’ve never owned one, never worn one and cannot even look at one without considering it to be something from another generation, like liberty bodices and tuberculosis. But isn’t it the most practical solution? It’s not attractive by any means, and it’s about as rock and roll as Horlicks, (unless you’re Nicola Roberts) but is the pop sock the way forward? I have to say I’ve shuddered at the mere thought of it, but from a logical point of view… Oh I dunno.

Since I cannot bring myself to be a shoe and pop sock person, I’m afraid I’ll have to carry on wearing my jeans long enough to cover my socks, or flit carefully between flip-flop and boot until the Winter arrives properly. I am also a bit astonished that this seemingly innocuous issue was warranted almost a thousand words and not a little angst.

Weather: too cold for flip-flops, not cold enough for boots. Fuck.

Four Counties.

Last Saturday I had an X Factor and vino date with Becky but she had most inconveniently caused herself a neck injury and a migraine through decorating her bathroom, and so we postponed to the results show the following night. I still don’t understand why she was decorating – she has a husband, so why have a dog and bark for yourself? Anyway, this left me with a Saturday night with nothing to do except catch up with the Dodgy tour, which had stopped off at the throbbing metropolis of Shrewsbury. The rain was absolutely wazzing down, but I figured if I took it easy along the back country lanes (no laughing at the back), it’d be okay. It was, phew.

It was a weird place for Dodgy to play in; the Four Crosses Hotel in the middle of the Shropshire countryside, and it looked more like a mock-Georgian wedding venue than a kicking gig venue. However, I was (unusually) wrong, and it turned out to be fantastic. The room was absolutely packed and the crowd were jumping, the gig was truly fantastic, the whole thing sounded amazing and it was nice to catch up with the boys, as always. I was driving home again (uurgh) so I stayed sober (double uurgh) and stayed just long enough to say ‘hello’, ‘great gig’ and ‘see ya soon’.

During the following week I visited my mate Mark the Yid on Monday, had tea at me Mum’s on Tuesday, went to see Dad and took Bryony out to McDonalds (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it) on Wednesday, had pizza and stayed over at Ann & Tilly’s place on Thursday, and had a wonderful dinner at Marie & Paul’s on friday, which was produced from the River Cottage Garden vegetable cook book I bought for Marie a couple of weeks back. Busy bee, huh? I love it like that, nothing better than catching up with friends and family, and putting the World to rights.

Friday was also birthday day for two of my younger pals. Bryony turned 15 (going on 30), and Tess had her first birthday. I’ve decided that since so many people have birthdays at the end of September and the beginning of October, sex during the Christmas and New Year holidays should be banned. Do your friends and relatives a favour people. If you’re even vaguely fertile, keep your genitals to yourself from mid-December to mid-January this year. Thank you. As you were.

Saturday came, and with it a BRILLIANT weekend ahead in the best city in the entire World – Liverpool. Oh, and I need to point out that you can try to tell me London’s better or Manchester’s better, or that there was this place in South east Asia you saw when you were backpacking in 1994, but you’d be wrong. It’s Liverpool, end of.

Having taken Mum to get her ‘flu jab and helped to change Granny’s bedding and one or two other errands, I finally got to the railway station and on the chuffer to Liddypoolsville. Ahhhhhh, the feeling you get as the train crosses the Runcorn Bridge, and you know you’re nearly there. It’s just the best. I always start to get butterflies as I get to Lime Street (it might well be my liver groaning as it realises what we’re about to do). Once I’m on the station concourse and can feel like I’m really in the city, I take a deep breath in through the nose. A lung full of Liverpool – nothing finer for the constitution.

I met Lis at the uber-swanky Hard Days Night Hotel, where she had very cleverly booked us into the best room the place (in my opinion). Room 402 has a balcony which gives you a view all the way down Mathew Street, from North John Street, past Pink, past the Cavern, past Eric’s, down to the Grapes and so on. At one end of the balcony you can see the Three Graces over the rooftops, and at the other end you can see the iron arch and slated spires of Lime Street station.

In fact the only thing that is wrong with Room 402 is the portrait of Ringo, who’s pervy eyes follow you around the room (shudder).

Having absorbed a bit of luxury in the hotel, Lis and I wandered along Mathew Street, into town and found a table in a pub that sold bottles of plonk for £6. Oh yes please. We polished that off at a fairly alarming rate, and simultaneously caught up on each other’s news and gossip, since we’d not spent time together since July. Then we wandered on to meet some friends at Villa Romana. I hadn’t been there before and have to say, it was gorgeous. Beautiful restaurant, great staff, and the food was out of this world. Four starters, four mains and two bottles of vino came to £80. Can’t say fairer than that, eh? Thoroughly recommended for a belly full of Italian in Liverpool.

We jumped into a cab and got to the venue just in time to get drinks, assume a decent position (as opposed to an indecent one) and wait for the first band of the evening. Damien Dempsey is an absolute powerhouse of a man. He’s more Irish than… well, anything really. There is a school of thought that enthuses that Dempsey is currently the very best singer/songwriter this side of Jupiter. I’m not of that school, but I do think he’s really bloody fantastic. Pretty easy on the eye too (wink nudge).

Then Amsterdam. This is a band I got into accidentally. I had been to a couple of Ian McNabb gigs, at the insistence of my then boyfriend. He told me that he knew I would love McNabb’s music, because “it’s music for lovers, and music lovers”. He was right, and long after he and I split up, I was still going to McNabb gigs. I met a few new friends at those gigs (Lis being one of them), and some of those people suggested that I would also like Amsterdam – a celtic, folk, rock, punk, rollercoaster that was a bit of the Clash, a bit of Dexy’s and a whole lot of Ian Prowse, their brilliant frontman.

So, then Amsterdam came on stage and my stomach turned with excitement. Some of the best BEST gigs I’ve ever seen in my whole life have been Amsterdam gigs. I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of all kinds of gigs, and I’m not easy to please musically, so that’s quite an accolade. Saturday night’s show did not disappoint, it was blinding. You just cannot fail to be turned on by an eight piece band like Amsterdam, but if you do fail, call an undertaker. All my favourites were on the set list, as well as new material I’ve never heard before and am looking forward to hearing again. I sang along, clapped, stomped, laughed, cried and squealed with delight. Luckily for me, Lis filmed almost all of it on her fantastic new little Cisco FlipVideo gizmo. To top it all off, we met up with a huge bunch of friends, old and new, some we expected, and others we just didn’t know would turn up and it was a wonderful surprise to see them.

After the gig, Lis and I walked a little way through the city with Dave and Chris, and then we girls peeled off to walk towards Mathew Street. Saturday nights on Mathew Street are always pretty raucous affairs (think Hogarth’s “Gin Lane“), and so we decided to walk along through the mayhem, to our hotel. We saw one immaculately turned out girl in a fabulous red dress, with full WAG tan and make up, long ringlets and a handbag that probably cost more than my car. As we got level with her, she staggered, leaned against a littler bin, sicked up into her own mouth, held it in with her hand, and swallowed it back down. That, ladies and gents, is true class. Once back inside the Hard days Night, we peeled off to the left into Bar Four. A bloke at the bar ordered two cognacs, which were served heated over a flame, and cost him about £30. Bloody hell. We ordered a pair of rum and Cokes and sat down quickly for more gossip and some priceless people watching. Feeling suitably rummed up and snoozy, we eventually wobbled off to our lovely room, and got all jimjammed up. Having had a final pillow-based gossip, it was lights out and the end of what had been a wonderful night out with a much-loved friend.

We woke late and after we had taken our turns in the shower and got dressed, we wandered through Liverpool a bit more. We breakfasted at Patisserie Valerie – one of a small chain of Belgian patisseries that seem to be popping up here and there. After a mini shopping spree en route to Lime Street (all Lis – I was entirely innocent of this) we acquired tea and coffee and hopped onto our train. A slightly sad journey back after such a smashing time, but we chattered away nevertheless and before we knew it, it was time for me to leave Lis at Crewe, and she then carried on to Birmingham, and onward to deepest, darkest Berkshire. A happy time had by both.

Once home I was able to catch up with Facebook, sort my bag out, spend some time with the cat (who didn’t seem to have noticed I was away) and speak to my pal Ann, who had gossip to share. After a long phonecall, catching up with each other’s news, we decided it would be easier for me to pop over there, so we could natter and watch the X Factor results. With bellies full of KFC, we settled in to shout at the telly, especially that Kitty one who needs a metaphorical thump in the gob, as far as I’m concerned. There’s no-one really grabbing me from this year’s finalists so far. We’ll see…

Much silliness and hilarity at Ann & Tilly’s place as usual, and then Spooks. I haven’t been able to watch Spooks since an episode years ago where the ‘baddy’ put one of the Spooks faces into a chip shop deep fat fryer. She came out screaming, fried and disfigured and when eventually she passed out from the agony, the ‘baddy’ shot her in the head. This gave me terrible dreams for ages, and so I have never watched it since. However, this episode was fantastic! Shame it’s the last series. Fucking typical.

This morning, Ann introduced me to something else I’ve never had. Tinned spaghetti and fried egg on toast. When I admitted I’ve never tried this combination, she called me a “Southern Poof”. I can now say with some certainty that having had tinned spaghetti and fried egg on toast, and having declared it delicious, I am now both thoroughly Northern and utterly heterosexual. Eeeeh…

This afternoon I went to pick up the lovely Lucy, and we went into Hanley to sample the food at a brilliant little caff she has discovered and insisted I sample too. She was SO right. Lángos (pronounced lahn-gosh) is a tiny little Hungarian caff, tucked away at the back of the market under the Potteries Shopping Centre. It is named after the traditional Hungarian flatbread that makes up much of the menu there. It’s the sort of thing you can have with cheese, sausage and garlic as a savoury meal, or with chocolate spread and ice cream as a dessert. Delicious doesn’t even come close. Lucy and I had goulash which was pretty much the most amazing tasting dish I have tasted in years. We drank hot apple and maple tea, and then had lángos for dessert. Lucy ordered hers with chocolate spread and banana, and I ate mine with honey and vanilla ice cream. Two meals, two desserts, two hot drinks, less than £10. Perfection. If ever you’re in the Stoke area, try Lángos. It looks like a tiny little teapot and toast style caff, but serves top notch restaurant food at soup kitchen prices.

So now I’m home and I don’t think I’ll be moving from this seat at any point soon. The weather’s gone a bit biblical, there are Jack Russel dogs flying past at some altitude, and all the trees have gone a bit horizontal. The cat’s wandering round with eyes like saucers, like something off a Halloween poster.

I’ve done quite enough gallivanting just lately, across four counties and covering many, many topics of conversation, many types of food and drink, a handful of music genre and with some of the loveliest people I know. It occurs to me tonight, as I relax on my own with my thoughts, that just like everyone else I have my problems, issues and things that go AARRGH in the night, but I have to say that I am a very lucky girl indeed. Thank you so very much to everyone who makes my life so lovely, and bollocks to all the rest… 😉

Weather: buy a chin strap for your wig, probably best if you don’t go out with a big umbrella. Just saying.

The Baby Gap.

It’s that time of year (nine months after Christmas) when just about every other woman I see is either heavily pregnant or is showing off a beautiful newborn baby, and it’s bloody wonderful. But it’s not for me.

I’ve never wanted kids. Never. Not once. Even when I was grown-up and married and had the opportunity, I never wanted to. That’s not to say I dislike children, in fact quite the opposite. I really enjoy the company of children, of all ages. I have all the time in the World for my friend’s kids, who mostly call me Aunty Chappers. One of my friend’s daughters even refers to me as her ‘second Mummy’ and buys me a Mother’s Day card, which is a HUGE honour for me.

The most amazing and yet the saddest thing is that my lovely friends Jules and Ian bestowed the title ‘Guardian Aunt’ on me, following the birth of their precious and much longed for first daughter. This is a couple who I had only met through gigs in London, and a few other social occasions, but we had become firm friends. When, after a long and worrying time, Julia finally became pregnant, I was one of the first people they told. And when Martha was born I got a phone call explaining that although they weren’t going to have a Christening or a Baptism, they like the idea of Godparents, and so had decided that Martha would have a Guardian Aunt and a Guardian Uncle.

I thought this was their way of building up to saying, “So anyway, we’re going to have a huge barbeque and there’ll be lots of booze and do you fancy coming along..?”. But no, Julia asked me if I would like to be Guardian Aunt. To Martha. Their beautiful precious daughter. I broke down and had to end the call, then call back when I could speak. Through tears of joy (and amazement, frankly) I agreed and am delighted and honoured to be Aunty Chappers to the most beautiful and gifted three year old in the World. My Martha.

But why is this sad? It’s not sad in itself, but I feel sad when the important stuff happens, or the funny stuff, or just the stuff I would just like to be there for. You see Martha is 170 miles away and sometimes when she calls me to tell me silly things like, “Aunty Chappers I ate too much popcorn today”, or just to sing an Abba song to me, I laugh like a drain for a couple of minutes, then have a little cry because I wasn’t there to kiss her face.

But as much as I love My Martha (and I do, so much so that it hurts my heart sometimes), I’ve still never wanted a child of my own. I like my life just as it is. I like my freedom and independence. I like going to gigs and zooming about to see friends. I like sitting quietly alone whenever I want to, or having a noisy party whenever I like, and most of all, I really like my vagina, just the way it is.

However, you would not belieeeeeeve the hassle you get over it. You know that scene in SATC2, at Stanford and Anthony’s wedding, where the fan leans over to Carrie and says, “I am you..”? And then the disappointed and pitying look she gives to Carrie and Big when they reveal that they don’t plan to pro-create? Well, ladies and gentlemen, that happens in real life.

It seems that if you don’t plan to stop using your tits as a means of getting free drinks, and start using them to give free drinks to your offspring, you’re odd. If you don’t ever intend to squeeze another human being’s skull through your money-maker, you’re weird.

And there’s quite a few of us freaky weirdos about, and we all have different ways of dealing with the “Use Your Womb” brigade. Sometimes we lie and say we hate children, often we just say we’ve never met the right guy, occasionally we humour them and say, “Maybe one day…”, but rarely do we tell the truth and say, “I just like being able to sneeze without pissing myself!”.

The crux of it is, it’s not children that bother me. Children are bloody great. It’s pregnancy, birth and Motherhood that scare the bejeezus out of me, and so I figure it’s best left to those who will be brilliant at it.

And when I’m allowed, I’ll step in to change nappies, babysit, bring presents, be cool Aunty Chappers and I’ll even teach your offspring to swear at the appropriate juncture…

Weather: torrential, biblical, wouldn’t be surprised if there was a plague of boils.