Sunday, 27 December 2009

Murder in Albert Square

Rosebud was his sled. Or rather it wasn't because this was Archie Mitchell, not Citizen Kane, even though he was nursing a snowglobe for much of his final hour in Albert Square. Meanwhile the list of possible culprits for his inevitable demise grew steadily, Agatha Christie style.
Would it be Bradley, for once not wearing brown but a new Christmas jumper? Janine, forced to parade in her sexy Santa outfit (even though she had all her clothes in the suitcase Archie had so thoughtfully thrown at her)? Peggy, who as we know is leaving the Square? Phil, who could barely see straight, having spent the entire day drinking with Shirl? Sam, who had arrived back just in time to discover how 'Uncle Archie' had stitched up her - and her family? Ian, who he was blackmailing? Ronnie, whose life he had destroyed?
Well, call me Hong Kong Phooey, but since Sam came in clutching her jacket, looking shaken and shocked in Friday's episode, and since she's got form (she was there when Dirty Den got his head smashed in with a doorstop, wasn't she?), my money's on her.
Anyway, no harm really done. Archie turned up on the beach in Gavin and Stacey on Thursday night looking fit as a fiddle.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Sorry Ma'am, just grin and bear it

A well-known family has complained about paparazzi intrusion into their personal lives and have asked to be left alone at Christmas, citing the Press Complaints Commission Code and insisting that shots of them going about their daily business are 'not in the public interest'.
Sounds reasonable enough. Except that this particular family are the Royal Family. And the simple truth is that we - as a nation - own the Windsors, because we're the ones who keep them going.
Personally I have no interest in seeing candid snaps of Wills, Harry or any of the rest. And no one would want to see a return to the bad old days of Diana-style stalking.
But you can't draw money from the public purse and then moan about intrusion.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A Letter to my 16-year-old self

This post is in response to a writing workshop suggestion by Josie at Sleep is for the Weak

Dear Liz,

The New Romantic look is Not A Good Look. Ditto the Princess Di. Try to find your own style and remember that photos last a lifetime, so be very careful about what you wear to weddings.
Your sister can be a pain, but she looks up to you so try to be a bit nicer to her, you never know when you might need each other. And when you go on holiday to Germany with her and your cousin, don't get in the car with the boys you meet at the disco and go back to their flat. It will all be OK, but it could so easily not have been.
The Jane Fonda workout is a waste of time and money because you will do it once or twice and then lose interest. Ditto the Peter Powell, the Felicity Kendall and any other celebrity-endorsed workout album, video (or in a few years) DVD that follows. Although you're not remotely sporty it would be good if you could get into running and keep doing it for the rest of your life. Heart disease runs in your family.
You haven't been in love before, but try not to fall for the American boy who joins your 6th Form for three months, because when he leaves to return home it will break your heart. And try not to get too involved with boyfriends at university. None of them are your soulmate and the thought of them will eventually make you cringe.
I know you want to buy lots of lovely clothes and albums and go to as many parties as possible but try not to spend all your holidays and Saturdays working in WHSmiths to pay for it. You need to do more revision. You're bright but if you don't work a bit harder you won't do nearly as well in your exams as everyone expects.
Cider and black is a horrible drink and if you have more than a pint of it you will end up in hospital. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Try to see your grandmother often because you will miss her so much when she's gone.
And finally, spend as much time as you can with your dad, getting to know him as well as you possibly can. Ask him about his childhood and try to find out about your half brother and sister. In a year, he will leave home. In five years, he will be dead, and all the answers will be lost forever.

Love Liz

Monday, 12 October 2009

Better the devil you know

Hearing David Cameron's speech at last week's Conservative Party Conference left me thinking 'so what?'
While it was undoubtedly moving (largely due to the reference to the loss of his son, which may or may not have been appropriate), it contained nothing that would inspire confidence or encourage me to think of the Conservatives as the party to lead this country for four years. (Or, for that matter, four months.)
I have a long memory, and I remember what it was like to live under the Tories. I lived through the Brixton riots, the attacks on student grants, and their handling of the previous recession. Wasn't great, was it?
The suits may be a bit sharper, and they are clearly doing everything they can to distance themselves from Thatcherism, but the basic premise remains the same. It's still a party overrun with the over privileged who have no concept of what it's like to budget for a supermarket shop, let alone the finances of a nation. These are the men who built moats and duck islands at our expense, for gawd's sake.
Samantha Cameron wore high street dresses last week to imply that she's 'one of us' but she's actually from the landed gentry. But of course we're not voting for Samantha, any more than we would be voting for Sarah Brown. We're voting for policies.
And as far as I can tell, the Tories - and their leader - are as full of empty rhetoric as they've always been. Thatcher. Major. Cameron. The Conservative Party leadership is simply a Scooby Doo villain in a mask. Rip it off and you'll always find the same sort of face underneath.
I wouldn't trust the Conservatives with a coffee run, let alone the future of the country.

Friday, 25 September 2009

How much David Mitchell is too much?

We have a saying in our house: 'It's another quiz show with David Mitchell.' It's not an understatement. Right now, on any evening of the week, you can find a quiz show (new or repeated) where David Mitchell is a panellist. QI, 8 out of 10 Cats, Would I Lie To You, Mock the Week - after a while they all start to blend into one. And now of course he's back in the latest series of Peep Show on Channel 4 as well.
Now don't get me wrong. I like watching David Mitchell. He's an extremely witty man, a good actor, and I enjoy his slightly superior stance and sarky quips. He's like a young Stephen Fry. But there's a real danger that he's going to be over-exposed, and there's nothing guaranteed to kill off a career faster than that.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Time for Alesha to do a Kelly Brook

I feel a bit sorry for Alesha Dixon this morning. It is not her fault, really, that she has been placed in the firing line for attempting to fill the dancing shoes of Arlene Phillips on Strictly Come Dancing by the age-obsessed BBC. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to be a panellist on a primetime TV show?
But the fact remains she is woefully miscast in her new role - she has neither the experience or skillset to be able to provide useful commentary on any of the performances, and her attempts to make witty observations fell flatter than some of the contestants' feet. If she's got any sense she'll make her excuses and leave - and look for a more suitable vehicle for her talents.

Means testing child benefit makes perfect sense to me

Finally, someone with a Good Idea. I've never really understood why child benefit has been given to everyone, regardless of income. It doesn't make sense that Mrs X whose husband earns over £100k in the city should receive the same as Mrs Y whose husband is on £24k. Now Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems have mooted the prospect of means testing, which would help divert badly needed resources elsewhere. Obvious, when you think about it.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Put it away, love

So much for divorcing with dignity. Not content with flaunting her new man at every possible photo opportunity, Katie Price has now revealed that not only was she raped but her assailant was - well, you guessed it, a celebrity. Yes, following in the dainty footsteps of Ulrika, Katie is playing the 'Look at me! No don't Look at me!' card.
Think I'll look away.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Loss of a friend

I didn't expect it to affect me this badly.
Our Cavalier King Charles spaniel had been sick for months with heart disease, a common complaint in his breed, and I thought I was prepared.
A fortnight ago he'd had a small heart attack while he was in my mum's car, but recovered. Then he developed a chest infection. The vet had told me that it probably wasn't worth giving the dog his vaccinations. I knew what he was saying. The little dog's condition was deteriorating so fast there was very little that could be done.
Now after we'd taken him for a walk we could hear his heart hammering in his chest so hard that sometimes it was louder than a conversation. Instead of waiting for me in the hall when I came downstairs in the morning, he simply lay there, barely able to lift his head.
So a week ago I made the painful decision to have him put to sleep, booking an appointment for yesterday. I agonised over whether it was the right decision, even though my head told me his time had come and it was better he died with dignity.
I wanted to make his last week as pleasurable as possible. I decided to give him a cool bath, and he sat there patiently as he always had done while I washed his beautiful auburn and pearl-coloured coat and cleaned his eyes and ears. Afterwards, he rolled on the grass in the sunshine.
On Tuesday I took him for a long walk on the common. He bounded across the grass like a puppy, ears flapping in the wind.
On Wednesday, after his last walk of the day, he enjoyed some leftovers. But by 9pm it was clear he was struggling to settle. He sat on the floor, his back legs splayed, front legs forward, panting. I could feel his heart pounding in his chest, and he kept panting and staring at me, his eyes shiny. But this wasn't unusual, it had been going on for weeks.
At 12.30am I went upstairs to bed, and for some reason I decided to take him up with me, so I could keep an eye on him. I put an old nightdress on the floor and he sat on it. I'm not sure if he laid down.
At quarter to five in the morning he woke me up, sniffing my hair and clearly struggling to breathe. I started stroking him and trying to soothe him. Then, on impulse, for the first time in his life I picked him up and put him on the bed. His breathing seemed to calm down immediately as he lay down on the soft duvet and closed his eyes.
I thought he was going to sleep.
But five minutes later he gave a terrible howl and then he was gone. It was incredibly quick, less than 30 seconds.
I stroked his head and cleaned him up and wrapped him in his towel. He looked so peaceful, and I was glad he died at home.
Now, four days later, I feel as though something's missing everywhere I go. I'm so used to having four feet padding behind me in the kitchen or in the garden. Even walking up to the common without a lead in my hand feels unnatural. Everyone in our family has been mourning the loss, including the cats, who keep looking for him.
Yesterday afternoon, when I went into the kitchen there was a fox sitting on the lawn in the dog's favourite spot, enjoying the sunshine. Last night one of the cats sat in the same place until midnight.
The vet has reassured me that there was nothing we could have done, and that all the tests in the world would have only confirmed what we already knew, the inevitable outcome.
I know it's better that he isn't suffering any longer.
I didn't expect it to affect me this badly.
But it has.


Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Nothing to see

So the Bank of England has announced that the recession is 'deeper' than previously thought. No s**t, Sherlock. It certainly won't be news to the countless thousands who have lost their jobs since the whole sorry mess began. And it certainly won't be news to those who are struggling to keep their homes against increasingly desperate odds. Meanwhile the bankers who caused all this are allowed to keep their superlative bonuses. Go figure.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Bittersweet victory for the Corby parents

Some years ago I wrote about the Corby birth defects for a women's magazine. What struck me then as now was the sheer humbling dignity of the parents involved. It's incredible that their fight for justice has been allowed to drag on for so long, causing huge and unnecessary stress for them and their families. It is also inconceivable that the Council still, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, refuses to accept responsibility. They should be deeply ashamed.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Big Brother 10 - the Story So Far

The female of the species is more deadly than the male - in the BB 10 house, at least, where the lovely Noirin has been using her preying mantis-type seduction skills to knock off the blokes at an alarming rate.
First the incredibly irritating and totally self-deluded Sree fell for her charms. Then, momentarily at least, Halfwit (real name Freddie, changed his name by deed poll to stay in the house) decided there was an attraction between himself and Noirin (there wasn't, not in her eyes, anyway).
Then it was the turn of the even more deluded Marcus, aka Wolfman, to try his luck (his only resemblance to Hugh Jackman it has to be said is his sideburns. He's possibly the most unattractive male ever to enter the House.)
Noirin tried to show Marcus she wasn't interested in him by spending hours on end talking to him under duvets, giving him cuddles, allowing him to paint her naked back, that kind of thing. Understandably, perhaps, he was a little confused by her signals and convinced that if he pushed hard enough sooner or later she would succumb to his unlikely (non-existent) charms.
But while her stalker was in the BB garden jail, Noirin decided she fancied the flamboyantly/badly dressed Siavash, who is a little like Sayid from Lost, only not as attractive.
Meanwhile Kenny the millionaire and boyfriend of the incomprehensible Karly (who was previously evicted) walked out. Lisa the butch bitchy lesbian continued to bitch about her fellow housemates. Charlie and Rodrigo enjoyed a quick cuddle under the covers. Dogface (real name Sophie) started to emerge as one of the only entertaining housemates.
Then Noirin, clearly enjoying herself hugely and ensuring her longevity in the BB house threw a spanner in the works by declaring she fancied muscle-bound Tom. At which point Tom decided he'd had enough of the whole shebang and walked out, declaring the housemates 'freaks', a comment which made Lisa apoplectic with rage. (It remains to be seen who Noirin will target now, as the other three males in the house would rather bat for the other side).
You didn't miss much.

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Friday, 17 July 2009

Strictly ageism

This week it was announced that Radio 1 DJ Jo Whiley (44) is being replaced by Fearne Cotton (27) .
Hot on the (sparkly) heels of Arlene Phillips' sacking from Strictly Come Dancing, where the 66-year-old has been replaced by Alesha Dixon (30), this smacks of astonishing ageism and sexism.
Given the BBC is a publicly-funded organisation, they have a duty to behave responsibly in all issues, but particularly when it comes to employment law.
As far as I know, it's illegal to get rid of people on the grounds that there's a younger, better-looking model waiting in the wings. I hope Arlene and Jo fight this all the way.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Too much information?

I am not sure what has possessed Katie Price to go on TV to talk about her recent miscarriage - (other than the obvious chequebook incentive) - particularly as it only happened in April. Of course it explains a lot - the breakdown of her marriage to Peter Andre, her alarming behaviour in Ibiza. But three months surely isn't long enough to recover from the loss of a baby, let alone discuss it with Piers Morgan on national television. That's what friends are for.

Mean time

As an experienced journalist, if there's one phrase guaranteed to make me furious, it's the term 'job' used in the same sentence as 'work experience', 'intern' and 'unpaid'. For a start, an 'unpaid' job is a contradiction in terms. But moreover, more often than not, these 'positions' don't even include expenses. There are few people who can afford to work for nothing. Every employer who offers an internship or work experience for the over 18s without any form of remuneration - not even for fares! - is guilty of exploitation.

Friday, 26 June 2009

The Lost Boy

One of my favourite all time records is I want you back by the Jackson Five. Michael's soaring child vocals elevate the track into a work of genius. Whatever you think about the man he became, he was without question one of the most naturally gifted singers of his generation. So I hope he's left to rest in peace - and his children can finally have the normal life they deserve.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

What Katie did

Having negotiated with Katie Price's former management company re the use of her incredibly carefully controlled image on numerous occasions, it comes as something of a shock to see her sprawled on a beach in Ibiza allowing holidaymakers to take photos. According to reports she has been getting drunk and telling anyone who'll listen that she is 'over Pete'. It doesn't appear that way. She's obviously going through a range of emotions, and I hope her friends will rally round and give her the support she so clearly needs.

The truth is out there...

Is anyone else confused about what's really going on with the economy at the moment? According to this morning's papers househunters are 'flooding' back to the market, but unemployment is at a 12-year-high and interest rates are set to rise. Somehow the figures aren't adding up.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

You couldn't make it up

As cringe-making TV moments go, this was a classic, on a par with Jade's East Angular, only with much less charm.
In case you missed it, the blonde Scottish girl was explaining the similarities between the German and English languages to the sweet Brazilian guy. 'Apparently the reason German and English are so similar is from when the Nazis came to Britain,' she told him confidently.
Oh my sad.

Monday, 8 June 2009

No Davina, this wasn't brilliant TV

I'm not sure whether the producers of Big Brother are determined that this year's series, the 10th, will also be the last. But the whole idea of the 'non-housemates' competing for a place as a 'real' housemate, and sobbing their hearts out in the diary room because they thought they had really made it into the BB house, made uncomfortable viewing, and verged on the downright cruel.
No Davina, this wasn't 'brilliant'. It was sadistic and unnecessary. You can only imagine the humiliation Beinazir, the first person to be evicted without ever having been a housemate, must be feeling now she's back home. 'She wasn't very communicative,' Davina said, with a faux sympathetic expression. Beinazir was driven away on a bus, and you could almost hear her sobbing.
No doubt this was a cynical cash-generating exercise as of course the public had to vote for the housemate they wanted evicted. But as far as I've been able to make out from the highlights, Benazir was one of the least offensive candidates, some of whom make you want to turn the TV off rather than on. Combined with the lack of daytime live feed, I predict this year's BB could well be a ratings disaster unless they turn it round quick.

The Apprentice final - spoiler alert

'I understand what you're saying... I'm not sure it's clear,' Lorraine quipped (unintentionally) as Yasmina ran through the most important speech of her life. 'I'm not Martin Luther King,' Yasmina responded.
This was just one of the golden moments in the final of The Apprentice, in which Kate and Yasmina went head to head, creating a box of chocolates with a little 'help' from their rivals/friends.
Yasmina and her team came up with the idea of chocolates with an 'electrifying' taste - weird combinations, like Orange & Coriander. Margaret raised an eyebrow at the Strawberry & Basil, and then declined to try any more, which did not bode well. But at least the packaging and price were spot on, as Suralan might say, at £5 a box.
Kate meanwhile plumped for a box of 'luxury' chocolates for couples to 'share'. Revolutionary - not. Mercifully, thanks to a last minute intervention from Debra, she avoided calling them 'Intimate' and settled on 'Choc D'Amour'. Unfortunately, she also took advice from Debra and her 'incredible palate' on the quality and ingredients used in the chocolates, which resulted in them being priced at an eye-watering £13. 'Staying in is the new going out,' Kate declared. 'Not at those prices,' the rest of us were shouting at our TV screens. As Suralan pointed out, you can always fix the quality - but Kate had unwittingly priced herself right out of the competition.
So, after 12 weeks, it was Yasmina what won it. And now the search begins for the next batch of hopefuls.
Suralan, perhaps mindful of his newly exalted position as Small Business Adviser to the Government, pointed out that given the current economic crisis he would be keen to hear from people who have been made redundant. Wouldn't it be nice if this time, that could include a few competitors the other side of 35?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

WAGS with forked tongues

It's enough to send shivers down your spine. Apparently among those with their knives out for the PM are the so-called 'WAGs', aka 'Women Against Gordon'.
Do me a favour. It's women like these - Ruth 'do as I say not as I do' Kelly, Hazel 'I'll pay back every penny' Blears, Jacqui 'yes darling you can claim for your porn' Smith and Caroline 'glamourpuss' Flint who give women in politics a bad name and remind us that we are a long, long way from the next female Prime Minister. No matter what you think of Gordon Brown, he is infinitely preferable to this seething nest of vipers.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Goodnight Darling

I don't particularly care about the service charges on Alistair Darling's flat, how many TV subscriptions he's bought or anything else. What I do care about though is that he is, essentially, the No 2 in the Cabinet, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to all intents and purposes in charge of the nation's wealth and as such, his behaviour, and his expenses claims, should be beyond his approach. The man has been a liability for Labour since his warts 'n' all interview with Decca Aitkenhead last summer. Not showing him the door before Thursday's elections will, I fear, prove to be a costly mistake.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Be kind rewind

This morning I was walking back from the shops in the heat, slightly dishevelled, sweaty and bothered. As I crossed the road, suddenly a driver leaned out of the window of his white van. 'Cheer up darlin', it might never 'appen,' he called out.
Suddenly I had been propelled back 20 years, Ashes to Ashes style. I thought the age of White Man Van calling out predictable catchphrases to women as they mind their own business walking along the street had disappeared along with winklepickers, drainpipes and ra ra skirts, but apparently The Specials and Spandau Ballet aren't the only Eighties things making a comeback.

Monday, 25 May 2009

white menace

The other night I received a leaflet through my door. I knew who it was from even before I read it, because it was emblazoned with the Union Jack and plastered with white faces. 'NO to immigration' it stated.
I felt sick, as though my home had been invaded by an extremely unwelcome guest. Sick but not really surprised.
Some years ago I was personally on the receiving end of the BNP's vile messages when I wrote a review of a TV programme about the plight of the Jewish people under the Nazis for a national newspaper. I received anonymous hatemail and a pamphlet denying the Holocaust ever happened from members of the BNP.
When I complained to the Police, I was told there was nothing they could do because it was impossible to trace the senders.
At the time, it was perhaps slightly easier to dismiss them as a bunch of crackpot lowlifes. Unfortunately, since then, support for the BNP has been steadily growing. Many of those who vote for them next week will have convinced themselves that this despicable group have nothing to do with racism, but any of us who have experienced the BNP's bile at first hand know the truth.
I still don't know how they were allowed to become a legitimate political party when their underlying message is so clearly one of hatred, but at the moment that's the situation we find ourselves in, and what matters now is how we counteract this menace.
The biggest scandal of the MPs expenses debacle is that their appalling greed and contempt for the British public is driving voters towards the BNP. They should be out there campaigning and convincing voters why they must turn away from this racist organisation. Instead they are caught up in defending the indefensible.
They have been caught red handed with their hands in the country's till. Time to fess up, pay what they owe, get on with fighting the local elections and obliterate the BNP.

Susan really does have the voice of an angel

She was so nervous she misfired on the first few notes, but once she got into her stride Susan Boyle proved once again why she should win Britain's Got Talent. And her intense vulnerability was perfect for her song choice - Memory, which is about an abandoned cat.
All bets really are off.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Lost Season finale - spoiler alert

The double episode season finale opened with the kind of hook other TV series can only dream about. Finally we met Jacob - who turned out to be incredibly youthful and actually rather charming. He was sitting on a beach, eating fresh fish he'd caught and barbecued himself, talking to someone who we presume was from the past rather than the future, although it was kind of hard to tell. They were watching a 17th century clipper on the sea. Then the camera panned out to reveal a giant Egyptian statue, Wicker Man style, right there on the beach.
Now we were really confused. Was Jacob in fact thousands of years old? How could an Egyptian relic have ended up on a Pacific beach? And how come we'd never seen it before?
Jacob, it turned out, had met all the Oceanic passengers at one time or other. He met Kate and Sawyer when they were cute kids, and Hurley when he'd just come out of jail. He met Sun and Jin at their wedding in Korea - it didn't matter though, because Jacob spoke every language under the sun. And still he didn't age.
Meanwhile Jack was on a mission - and that was to blow up the island with the nuclear bomb, the only way to make everything right. There was a semi-auto erotic fight between him and Sawyer (which might have worked better if they hadn't been wearing those daft Dharma Initiative jumpsuits). Finally Jack managed to convince Sawyer, Kate and Juliet that nuking the island was the right thing to do.
John Locke was still on his way to see Jacob - with Ben, the ever youthful Richard and the others (not the others, just that other group of passengers). Finally they arrived at the spot where the Egyptian statue had been - except all that remained was a giant foot.
Locke and Ben went in to see the statue while the others stayed on the beach and opened a giant box (too complicated to explain) to reveal a body. Locke's body. But Locke was still inside the foot with Ben, talking to Jacob. How could he be in two places at once?
The conversation inside the foot didn't last long before Ben stabbed Jacob and Locke pushed him on the fire. Given his previous omnipresence, I think it's safe to say he probably isn't dead.
Back at the drill hole, things were moving fast. After a gunfight between our lot and the bad Dharma Initiative crew Jack threw the nuke down the hole. Suddenly all metal objects started moving towards it - jeeps, everything. Somehow Juliet became caught up in some chains and then she was being dragged down into the hole. Sawyer tried to hold on to her but it was no use. 'I love you,' he sobbed. 'I love you,' she sobbed back. Then she fell. Just like in Hurley's film script for The Empire Strikes Back, the force was too strong.
A distraught Sawyer, Kate and Jack waited for the explosion. And waited. But nothing happened.
Then the camera took us down into the hole. There was Juliet. She was still alive. The nuke hadn't exploded. But she was badly injured. Still she managed to pick up a rock, and smash the nuke.
Whoosh.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Stop all the rot

The MP's expenses scandal is rapidly descending into a farce of Blackadder proportions. Now we have the Tories and their shadowy expense claims. I'm not sure what possesses an MP on over £60k a year to think it morally or even socially acceptable to 'flip' his second home allowance to claim for a property just outside London (Guildford is only an hour's commute from Westminster, a black cab home would have been cheaper). But by showing such flagrant disregard for voters, Gove and co have proved themselves completely unfit for Government, no better than the squires who used to lord it over the rotten boroughs in the 19th century. Something is very definitely rotten in 21st century Westminster.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

There's nothing like a Dame

Like the rest of the UK, I've always been a huge fan of Joanna Lumley. Not just for her Ab Fab moments, but because she's the very best of British - fearless, determined, and not afraid to stand up for what she knows is right. She also reminds us of why perhaps it's time for a female Prime Minister (because let's face it, the last one didn't really count). Men - and Maggie - have been screwing up the UK - the economy, education, the NHS - for decades. Like the musical number says, there's nothing like a dame - a decent female PM is long overdue.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Appetite for Destruction

I'm not sure why she ever imagined that the rest of us should have to pay for her summer house, shed and pergola, but those are just some of the items Margaret Beckett tried to claim as allowable expenses. They were disallowed, but her fridge, freezer, dishwasher, drier and washing machine apparently sailed through.
Like the rest of the Cabinet, Beckett has apparently been living it up (and then some) at the expense of the rest of us. Hazel Blears claimed for not one, not two but three homes. Alistair Darling did a trolley dash round Ikea and kept changing his second home (four times in total) so that he could keep claiming for it. And so it goes on.
The Cabinet's defence, as voiced repeatedly today by the hapless Harriet Harman, is that the expenses were 'allowable' under the old rules. But the argument that they haven't broken any rules is, really, no defence at all. Because anyone who thought it acceptable to claim for three homes or an LCD TV on the country's balance sheet has shown a staggering lack of regard and respect for the people who voted them in in the first place.
Nor is it really the point that all MPs from all parties have been filing their expenses claims under the same extraordinary rules.

The most important issue is that these particular batch of expenses have been run up by the Cabinet, the men and women entrusted with running the country, and their publication is an unmitigated PR disaster. Now our image of them is not of people we can trust - but of Political Fat Cats no better than the city bankers who broke the economy.
Coming at a time when so many families have been struggling to keep their heads above water and their homes from being repossessed, this will be remembered as the moment when Labour lost the next general election.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Lost in the 100th episode

As usual, it was Sawyer who came up with the funniest line, calling slightly mad scientist Daniel Faraday 'HG Wells' (all that reading must be paying off). In fact, the 100th episode was all about time travel, with Faraday flitting between the Sixties, Seventies and Noughties at an alarming and dizzying rate.
We discovered that he is in fact the son of Charles Widmore/Jim Robinson/Daniel Mead's dad and that his mum is the creepy white-haired woman who played an even creepier ghost in the Nicole Kidman film The Others. (Bizarrely, because of his relationship to Charles Widmore, Faraday is also the half-brother of Desmond's girlfriend Penny, although there appears to be no family resemblance whatsoever.)
Meanwhile back in the Seventies Sawyer had locked up the nasty man who also plays a nasty comedian in Mad Men (one of the perils of appearing in two hit shows at the same time) and was joining forces with the rest of the love quadrangle - Kate, Juliet and Jack - plus Hurley and Miles to get everyone to safety before the impending hydrogen bomb explosion. Faraday tried to warn Miles's dad (scientist Dr Chang) about what was coming, then in a slightly creepy scene he warned the junior version of the red-haired woman he fancied in the future to 'get off the island'. She looked confused and, not surprisingly, more than a little scared.
It then emerged that Faraday's mother was in fact one of the Others (for real), and off he went with Kate and Jack to find her so that she could unlock the secrets of the island. Unfortunately for Kate, Jack and everyone else, his mother, thinking him a deranged intruder, shot him just before the bang of the giant wood block heralding the end of the episode.
Brilliant.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

I predict a riot...

Like most of the UK, I'm a fan of Cheryl Cole. I love her style and her attitude, and she is probably one of the best things about the X-Factor. But ITV's decision to give her a £1million 'golden handcuffs' deal in addition to her reported £1.1million salary at a time when the network is laying off so many talented production staff is in the worst possible taste.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

no need to panic... yet

You really couldn't make it up. As part of their strategy to tackle the threat of a swine 'flu pandemic, the Government is printing leaflets advising us to cover our noses and mouths with tissues when we sneeze (as opposed to our hands or sleeves, presumably) and then 'throw the tissues away' (as opposed to sticking them under our bra straps or in our pockets?)
It's like something out of a Public Service Announcement spoof and it wouldn't be out of place on Harry and Paul. Don't panic, there's nothing to see.
But this Government has a habit of not coming clean about the really important stuff. I don't mean expense claims for patio heaters and porn, but the really, really important things. Like the state of the economy, for example. Given its track record on the recession, and the news that they have apparently ordered 32million face masks, how can we really believe anything they tell us?

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Chef's surprise

'Be brave, darling,' he whispered. 'I'll get out soon,' she sobbed into his shoulder.
No this wasn't a scene from a Second World War romance. It was Grant Bovey's 'dramatic' exit from Hell's Kitchen.
It was no big surprise that Grant was the second chef to be sacked from the kitchen. What he seems to be blissfully unaware of - unlike the rest of the country - is that he is one of the most unpopular people on TV, in a celeb mag, in a newspaper - well, just about anywhere, actually.
Asking Aslan/Marco to take care of his wife, Anthea Turner, in his absence probably wasn't the wisest move, either. 'You have my word as a man,' the great chef growled. No doubt Anthea will be next on the chopping board.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Straight eye for the queer guy

The Beeb's new Saturday night entertainment extravaganza Tonight's the Night is I'd Do Anything meets Britain's Got Talent with a bit of Surprise, Surprise thrown in. Heartwarming, cringe-inducing and cheesy in equal measure, it would be far from unmissable TV... were it not for the presenter.
John Barrowman can elevate even the most third rate material to something sexy and watchable. Like Captain Jack, his Dr Who/Torchwood swings-both-ways character, John flirts with everyone, male and female, and that makes him irresistible. Whether he's belting out a song-and-dance number, showing off his legs in a pair of satin shorts or simply looking into the camera and flashing another a-bit-like-Tom-Cruise-only-better grin, John is the kind of gay man who could break the hearts of straight women. Swoon.

Friday, 17 April 2009

A new Cinderella story

She was overweight and visibly middle-aged with appalling brown-stained teeth. But from the moment Susan Boyle opened her mouth and sang in that incredible voice, she brought tears to the eyes of everyone watching her.
Even those who never normally tune in to Britain's Got Talent have been spellbound by the Youtube video of Susan singing her showstopper from Les Miserables.
It's not difficult to work out why she has captured our hearts. Hers is a genuine fairy story - with Simon Cowell as her high-waisted godmother. In these difficult times, the idea that someone from the most ordinary background can captivate the world with her extraordinary talent is the uplift we've all been looking for - which is why she's getting so many hits on both sides of the globe. Her rags to (soon to be) riches tale is set to be one of the biggest happy endings of the year, and a reminder why we need reality TV.
Although the judges have pledged not to give her a makeover, no doubt this will come. But judging by the heartfelt, utterly genuine message from the woman herself on her facebook fan page this morning, success won't change her - not one bit.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Time to stop this IVF rationing

Eight years ago I wrote an investigative feature for a women's magazine on the NHS IVF postcode lottery.
I spoke to couples around the country who had been given only one cycle of free IVF because of where they lived - or in some instances, nothing at all. I discovered that once you embark on IVF, you inevitably need more than one cycle. Some of the couples I spoke to had sold their home to pay for private treatment, or their marriage had broken down under the strain.
The agony of infertility is that every year wasted can decrease the chances of successful conception. And by the time many of those couples had been forced to accept that IVF was not going to work for them, it was too late to adopt - because their local authorities considered them to be 'too old' (it should be noted that they were usually only in their mid-40s).
Sadly today, five years after ministers pledged to eradicate the IVF postcode lottery, it has been revealed that not only does it still exist, but that some couples can wait up to three years for their first turn - further decreasing their chances of success.
It's time for a cycle of change.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Sweet like...

The balance of power in our house is definitely skewed. I'm sure psychologists would have a field day blaming it on my teenager's parents - yes, his dad and I both spoil him rotten. But while any attempt to eat so much as a nugget of his ludicrously vast hoard of Easter eggs is met with a guilt-inducing 'Oh MUM!', the fact that he has helped himself to half of my treasured box of Ferrero Rocher is shrugged off with a 'yeah? So?'
Honestly!

Aslan's kitchen

Marco is wearing a scarf around his head. I think he's trying to look mean but the effect is more mad. Krystle Carrington is trying to avoid the heat - presumably in case it melts her face. Vic from The Young Ones has managed to burn himself already - he's sporting an enormous blister and whimpering like a girl. And annoyingly, because you really do want them to fail, the Bovey-Turners are proving to be the best cooks.
Welcome to Hell's Kitchen, where once again a group of 'celebrities' have been thrown in at the deep end with Marco Pierre White. He's doing his best to give them a hard time, but you get the feeling his heart isn't really in it. He also appears to have an enormous zit on his face which is slightly off putting when you watch him handling food.
He does give Ms Dynamite a hard time for turning in what appears to be a perfectly respectable sandwich, and for getting in the way, and for generally just being there. And he almost praises Gary Lineker's fiance for her efforts - cold cheese on toast. Claudia Winkleman - who really needs to stop wearing sunglasses in the sun, or pearlescent eye shadow, or whatever else she's doing that makes her lids appear alarmingly pale compared to the rest of her body - has replaced previous presenter Angus Deayton, and lacks his acerbic wit, although maybe that will come.
But the problem for me is Marco. I know he's an excellent chef, and sexy to boot, but as a hard man in the kitchen he simply doesn't convince. With that messy mane and low growl, he's less tiger, more Aslan-from-Narnia lion.
I'll keep watching, although not if anything better is on the other side, and only to see the Bovey-Grants come a cropper. But tomorrow night Hell's Kitchen goes head to head with The Apprentice. I don't reckon its chances.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Who are you?

Lately my facebook account has been inundated with friend requests from complete strangers. No, not people I've met and can't remember, or old colleagues or classmates I've chosen to forget. But proper, bona fide strangers. The one common denominator is that they are always male, which begs the question: do some men simply surf facebook looking for women? And if so, haven't they heard of faceinhole.com? With the wonders of this gadget, everyone's a supermodel.

Addicted to McNulty and co

Huge bags under my eyes, sallow skin and hair all over the place. You can tell just by looking at me that I was up late.
But I wasn't burning the candle at both ends. Instead I was feeding my latest TV addiction with another trip to Baltimore, Maryland - the setting for The Wire.
Yes, I know I'm a little late in the day, but along with many other first timers I'm currently watching the entire series back to back on BBC2. Given it ran for five seasons and it's only been on for a fortnight this could take some time, but it's a commitment I'm prepared to honour. The only problem is that (presumably because of the content and language) it's on so late. I've tried Sky plus-ing it and watching it the following day, but now I'm so desperate for my next fix I have to stay up to watch it.
Gritty, urban, sometimes shocking but also funny, this is Must See and Try to Hear TV. My favourite character is Jimmy McNulty (our own Dominic West), but even he is difficult to understand sometimes. Someone suggested the other day that you should watch it with subtitles, but I think that would take away from the authenticity. The point is - unless you actually grew up in the projects - you're entering a totally alien world, and besides, if you concentrate really hard you soon start to pick up 80% of the dialogue. Go on, try it. But a warning: one episode and you'll be hooked.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Goodbye Bermondsey's rose

So farewell then, Jade. As her family and friends come to terms with their loss, it will be of some comfort to know that this warm, bubbly and quite extraordinary girl, who came from the most ordinary background, touched so many. Hers was a life lived to the full, and in the end, you can't ask any more than that.

They shoot horses, don't they?

My son is going for a birthday outing with some mates to Thorpe Park this week. I'm happy for him to go, but with one proviso. 'Please don't go on Saw,' I begged.
Saw is a rollercoaster ride based on the slasher films of the same name, and it looks horrific, full of twists, turns and sheer drops. 'I don't think I want to,' my son replied after watching the advert promoting the ride.
That's his choice. I understand that some people enjoy the adrenaline rush of super scary rollercoasters, but I have never been one of them, so whether they're here or abroad, I avoid them like the plague. That's my choice.
The horses running at today's Grand National don't have a choice. Just the names of some of the fences are enough to strike terror into your heart - The Chair and Becher's Brook. Some of the jumps have a lower landing side than take off and that means the horse is totally unaware of what's to come until it's in the air.
Not surprisingly, the casualties and injuries are numerous. Since 1997 27 horses have died as a result of running in the National.
I understand racing. Though you wouldn't know it to look at me, as I am neither short or slight, I come from a racing family. My uncle was a jockey and my grandfather was also a jockey, who came third in the National. So, like so many others, I used to enjoy a flutter. But that was until I comprehended the full horror of the course.
Once you stop romanticising it, you realise that this race, probably more than any other, is all about money, and lots of it. The National isn't fun for the horses, and it's a fallacy to suggest otherwise. It is a torturous race to be endured. The horses don't have a choice. But we do.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Madonna has the right idea

When my son was small I went through periods of thinking that I should adopt another child. It seemed unfair that my little boy should have so much - toys, books, games - when other children had so little. For various reasons - mostly because I had to work full time to provide those toys, books and games - I decided not to pursue it.
So I can totally relate to Angelina Jolie and Madonna's urge to keep providing homes for disadvantaged children. While you could argue that they seem to be involved in some sort of competitive adoption (you adopt from Malawi, I'll raise you India), I can understand that overwhelming feeling that when you have so much, you want to share it with those that don't.
Critics argue that they should simply donate money to deserving causes in poor countries instead, but as I understand it, they have both done this, too. And I think there are few of us who could visit a village of some of the world's neediest children and resist the urge to swoop them all up in our arms and bring them home.
Others have said that Madonna should not be thinking about another adoption a) as a single parent and b) so soon after her divorce. But children are only better off in two parent homes if they are happy homes. And you only have to see Lourdes with her mum to know how well-adjusted she is. I have no doubt that a new child in the family will be something positive for Lourdes, her siblings and her mother.
I have never bought the argument that children should be adopted by their own race, either. Two of my close friends were adopted by people of different ethnicity, and they both thrived in their adoptive homes. To suggest that they would have been better off waiting for adoptive parents of the same colour who might never have materialised is ludicrous. It is much better for children to have loving, caring homes - of any kind - than to be left wanting.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Let the Primark Princess rest in peace

She lived her life in the spotlight - and now Jade Goody's funeral is becoming a three ring circus. The latest development - apart from Jordan being banned from the church - is that Michael Jackson is rumoured to be planning to attend.
For Jade's sake, and her family's, I hope this isn't true, and if it is, I hope he reconsiders. His attendance would mean an even bigger crush of paparazzi and security, and turn what should be a chance to say goodbye to the woman Russell Brand has so brilliantly dubbed the 'Primark Princess' into a total farce.
Jeff Brazier is clearly a sensible bloke. His decision to take his sons to Australia for three weeks rather than have them cope with their mother's funeral is exactly the right thing to do. It's time to put their needs first.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

keep your friends close...

You can almost feel the heat coming off Jacqui Smith's cheeks this morning. Just weeks ago she was being tipped as a possible successor to Gordon Brown. Now the whole country knows that her husband claimed for two 'adult' films on her expenses.
Leaving aside the crassness of Richard Timney's decision to watch £10 porn, there are two issues here. The first is that in 2009 the Home Secretary has to be seen as setting some sort of moral example to the rest of the country if she's going to get any grip on law and order - and filing expenses claims for porn, or keeping two houses, or buying white goods at the expense of taxpayers just doesn't cut it.
But more importantly, it's probably no coincidence that this should come to light now, just weeks after speculation that she could be the next Leader of the Labour Party. It seems pretty clear that someone wants Jacqui Smith out - and it may not be the opposition.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

not plastic fantastic

Amanda Holden, 38, is reportedly planning to have cosmetic surgery in an effort to counteract the march of time. She has already had Botox, and next on her shopping list will be an eyelid lift and probably 'half a facelift under my chin.'
It has always struck me as strange that actresses, who surely need full control of all their facial expressions, should resort to going under the knife in an effort to retain their looks. Hollywood is littered with the grotesquely rubbery, and interestingly, many of those who have resorted to surgery actually struggle to get roles, presumably in case they frighten cinema-goers.
But you only have to look at Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Julie Walters to know that true talent doesn't need artificial enhancement. If you've got it now, you'll still have it in thirty years - and if you resist the urge to mess with your looks you'll probably get more parts, and enjoy a longer career, as a result.

double tragedy

16-year-old Jimmy Mizen was a young man with so much potential who lost his life simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His parents, siblings and friends have coped with their loss with breathtaking dignity and my heart goes out to them.
Every time my own teenager goes out of the door to meet his friends on a Saturday afternoon my chest contracts with anxiety, and I have to fight my overwhelming urge to force him back into our home, where at least I know he is safe.
My fear - like that of so many parents - stems from the certain knowledge that no matter what you do to protect your children, you cannot prepare them for every eventuality. So while you may expect trouble at a bar on a Saturday night, you don't expect it at a bakery on a Saturday afternoon.
Jimmy's assailant, Jake Fahri, had aspirations to be a rapper, but he was also a loose cannon with violent intentions. Yet the photo of Fahri as a little boy in today's papers reminds us that here was a once innocent child who somehow became lost in broken Britain and grew up to become a killer. The tragedy is that because of his actions the lives of two families have been ruined, not least his own.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Somebody's watching me...

Logging on to Google's Street View, I couldn't wait to find my own house. After struggling to get to grips with the cursor I soon spotted my front door (and my neighbour's ramshackle wall), and eagerly clicked for a closer look.
To my astonishment, the image was crystal clear - and I could even see a shadowy figure inside. Me.
I'm not sure when this image was taken. Clearly last summer, as the windows were open and the leaves were on the trees. Thankfully I was fully dressed. But still it feels like a gross invasion of privacy.
It's only a matter of time - if it isn't happening already - before we're being monitored by Blade Runner style technology, which enables the Government/Whoever to capture us in our most private moments. Sleeping. Having dinner. On the loo.
There have been plans mooted for monitoring facebook and other social networking activity - although thankfully this appears to be an unworkable proposal. But identity cards are still set to become a real (and expensive) part of our daily lives. The Home Office claims that the cards will 'help us prove who we are'. Presumably they will be able to round us up on street corners and demand 'where are your papers?' too.
The main thinking behind identity cards - and no, I'm not buying the 'easier access to services' line or even the prevention of identity theft - is that it will help prevent terrorism and help the Government get some sort of grip on immigration.
But identity cards would not have prevented the recent murders in Northern Ireland, or even 7/11 - atrocities committed by British citizens on British soil. It won't stop the incitement to hatred by legal immigrants. And I doubt very much whether it will stop the influx of illegal workers - only tighter border controls will do that.
Yet Home Secretary Jacqui Smith claims that abandoning the scheme now would cost the Government - or any subsequent Government - £40million.
That's an awful lot of police.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

That's not entertainment

Years ago I was introduced to a tall stranger with piercing blue eyes. He grasped my hand firmly, fixed my gaze and said in a low voice 'Hello Liz, good to meet you.'
My knees went to jelly, my eyelashes fluttered involuntarily, and ever since that moment I've been a massive fan of Jonathan Ross. Whether he was guesting on They Think It's All Over or hosting Comic Relief, there was one thing you could always count on from JR: entertainment.
But even though I used to tune into his Friday night talk show religiously, I have felt - and I know I'm not alone - that over the past 18 months the programme has become something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Not just because of the cringe-inducing leering and inane pre-chat patter, but because it has actually descended deep into Dullsville and there doesn't seem to be any way back. It's only as ever as interesting as its guests, who are often not very interesting at all, and the biggest bonus of the seriously over-hyped Sachsgate was that it was actually off air for three months.
Which is what makes the decision to shortlist Friday Night With Jonathan Ross for a 'Best Entertainment Performance' BAFTA so surprising, and begs the question: have the Academy actually been watching what the rest of us have been watching?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

precious moments

It is the cruellest stroke of fate that Jade Goody has died on Mothering Sunday. For Jack, Jackiey and the rest of her family and friends, knowing she won't be suffering anymore must provide some comfort, but even though they knew it was coming they will be devastated by their loss, and my heart goes out to them.
For Liam Neeson, his sons and the Redgrave family, it will also be a difficult day, full of sadness and memories. To lose Natasha Richardson so suddenly means that there will always be a thousand things unsaid.
I probably won't get a card today. I certainly didn't get breakfast in bed, as my teen is at a sleepover. But I know that tonight we'll watch Lost on the sofa together, I may get a hug, and I'll feel incredibly blessed.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Borderline

As someone who spent most of the Eighties undergoing more style transformations than Madonna and Kylie combined, it's beyond me why designers have seized on this particular decade as inspiration for the summer's key trends.
From ra-ra skirts to Rude Girl mini skirts, wet-look curly perms to giant backcombed bedhair, dungarees to strategically ripped jeans, frilly shirts to 'Choose Life' t-shirts, padded shoulders and fluro tops, I didn't so much follow fashion as absorb it.
But like the Simply Minds song said, that was then, this is now. While some good things did come out of the Eighties - mobile phones, The Young Ones and New Order, for example - style simply wasn't one of them, and I have the photos to prove it. I'm all in favour of recycling, but I draw the line at deelyboppers and legwarmers.

A little less conversation...

President Obama's special Olympics gaffe on the Tonight Show - less than two months after his inauguration - has raised the ghastly spectre of George Bush-style cock-ups. It was offensive and crass but, disappointingly perhaps, a reminder that he is in fact a mere mortal who sometimes speaks faster than he thinks.
If his advisers have any sense, they'll put a blanket ban on any more guest appearances on late night chat shows for the foreseeable future. Actions always speak louder than words. And what the world needs right now are results.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Number on a list

As simple but effective marketing ideas go, it's probably close to genius. 101 Housework Songs is a new album featuring songs to make hoovering, dusting and mopping the floor fun. You get Queen's I Want To Break Free, Dolly Parton's Working Nine To Five, and so on.
The possibilities for adding to this new compilation franchise are endless. You could have 101 Gardening Songs, featuring Flowers In The Rain or Here Comes The Sun, depending on the weather. 101 Getting Ready To Go Out On The Razz Songs, including Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, It's Raining Men and Club Tropicana, to suit every predilection. And one 101 Facebooking Songs, including I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me and Me Myself I.
Or maybe one to suit the current national mood. 101 Job Seeking Songs, featuring Money Money Money and UB40's One In Ten.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

No, things didn't really get better

Well it had to happen eventually, didn't it. The Conservative Party have seized the day by revamping their hugely successful 1979 election poster with the tagline 'Labour still isn't working'.
And in the current climate, it's hard to argue with that. Unemployment is now the same as it was when Labour came to power in 1997, and the next 18 months look bleak. University fees are set to rise, making further education a distant dream for many of those who would benefit the most (so much for 'Education, Education, Education'). Repossessions - despite all the promises of protecting homeowners - are on the increase. Crime - particularly knife and gun crime - is reaching epidemic proportions. Huge tax rises are on the way. And to cap it all, the UK is set to be the country that suffers the deepest, and longest recession. It's like being in an Orwellian time warp. They even want to monitor us like Big Brother.
Yes, from the moment Alistair Darling gave that kamikaze-style interview to Decca Aitkenhead in the Guardian, it has seemed as though this Government has been hellbent on its own destruction. Bringing back Darth Mandleson was probably the final nail in the coffin. Forget Cool Britannia and ruling the waves - right now it feels like we're on board a sinking ship.
But while the Conservatives continue to do what they've always done best - point their manicured fingers - they are yet to offer any tangible insight into how they will pull us out of this mess. For those of us who voted in Blair, the babes and the rest because we really believed things were going to get better, giving a nod now to the Tories - the party that, lest we forget, gave us 18 years of living hell - is definitely a step too far. That they've chosen to resurrect an ancient election campaign poster simply proves they have nothing new to offer or say.
No, there's only one viable alternative to Labour. They may be less showy than the so-called 'opposition', but still waters, as they say, run deep. Vince Cable, Nick Clegg - it's time to step up to the plate.

Monday, 16 March 2009

shoplifting the pootie?

If reports are to be believed, Madonna has moved her young (young) man into her apartment after just three months of dating him.
Of course, if Madge, 50 really thinks that Jesus, 22, is the Second Coming then good luck to her.
But... and here's the rub. Madonna isn't a single woman with only herself and her own needs to think about. She's a single mum.
How her three children are expected to react to this latest development in what have already been a tumultuous couple of years is anyone's guess.
I know of other single mothers who have moved equally fast, introducing their bewildered children to a succession of 'mummy's friends'. Needless to say the kids have grown up more than a little confused, and in some cases, angry and resentful.
You have to wonder also whether Jesus - again, 22 - is really ready to assume the role of surrogate 'dad' to three children aged 13, eight and three?
As Cuba Gooding Jr said in Jerry Maguire, a single mother is a sacred thing. You don't mess with them. Or their kids.

booze control

The proposal by chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson to impose a minimum 50p per unit of alcohol was, frankly, laughable. No wonder the PM has distanced himself from it.
Anyone who has ever been to Europe knows that availability of cheap alcohol does not necessarily produce a nation of binge-drinkers. Anyone who has ever been a student with limited resources knows that it's always easy to get hold of cheap booze - if you can't afford a bottle of wine, cider will do; and anyone who has ever been on a tight budget knows you can always find money for a drink, should you choose to do so.
If Sir Liam spoke to the police, or to the paramedics and staff of the A&E departments who treat victims of excess boozing, I'm sure they'd tell him the same thing: that the problem of binge drinking has been steadily increasing since 2006 - when 24 hour licensing laws were introduced. It's simply too late to shut that stable door, Sir Liam. But it was this Government that allowed the Shire horse to bolt.

Friday, 13 March 2009

brass tacks

So, Kerry Katona has announced that she is to divorce Mark Croft. While the reasons aren't entirely clear, there is widespread speculation that their split has been fuelled by the couple's considerable financial difficulties - which would make them the first high profile celeb victims of the credit crunch. Bizarrely, this afternoon Kerry made a statement to this effect while accompanied by a representative from a company called 'Celebrity Financial Planning', for reasons known only to them.
I'm not suggesting for one moment that Kerry isn't genuinely devastated, and of course it's impossible not to feel some sympathy for her. The girl is pure car crash.
And I'm sure the timing of this announcement - in a week when the celeb press has been largely dominated by both Jordan and Jade - is simply a coincidence.
But the thought of all those magazine deals detailing your marriage breakdown (and any possible reconciliation, or God forbid, yet another renewal of those wedding vows) must be very attractive when you've been declared bankrupt.

The Yummy Mummy Factor

Yesterday a friend rang. 'X won the fancy dress prize,' she told me breathlessly. 'He went as Robin Hood - I made him a tabard.' 'That's fantastic,' I replied instantly. 'Congratulations.'
We didn't say it, but we both knew what she meant. Little X didn't really win the fancy dress prize. My friend did.
Because even though her children are aged just five and two, she's now in the Competitive Mums Club. I know, because I've been a fully paid-up member from the time my son first toddled through the school nursery gates.
Before you get all PC on me, I don't mean competitive about our children - of course we're proud of them, whatever they achieve. This isn't about them. This is about us.
I'm not sure where this urge to fight them on the playing fields and in the playground comes from, but in my experience it's particularly strong in Working Mothers, anxious to prove that anything the Stay-at-Homes do, we can do too - (and better, actually, so sod off you smug cow, who cares if we're never at the school gates, we can still pull it out the bag when it matters).
The first battleground is inevitably the Mums egg-and-spoon race at sports day, where the gloves - and shoes - are always off.
Next up is the World Book Day Fancy Dress parade. Unless you want your child to endure endless pitying looks from the other mums, you can forget buying a ready made pirate or fairy outfit. In the playground arena, shop bought just doesn't cut it. It's got to be handmade - and it's got to be clever. It doesn't matter how rough around the edges it looks - in fact, the less perfect, the better, because it proves you've Made It Yourself.
I can remember one year spending three evenings (after working all day, of course) hand-stitching my son's Legolas-from-Lord-of-the-Rings outfit, complete with homemade sword and scabbard. I even made him a wig and plaits from wool, and ordered him special elf ears from a movie props company.
He looked amazing - everyone said so. But he lost out on the first prize to a girl dressed as the the Very Hungry Caterpillar - a particularly dynamic feat of needlework.
The following year my little boy went as Iorek Berneson, the polar bear from the Philip Pullman Northern Lights trilogy - which involved copious supplies of white fun fur and endless sewing with white cotton. By the time the damn thing was finished I was snow blind. But all that effort paid off - and my heart was fit to burst as my precious boy walked off with the main prize. I don't even remember what it was now. But we kept the bear outfit.
Then it's the school fete/jumble sale, which brings endless opportunities to show off your talents - particularly in the cake-making department. And don't even think about buying a ready made box of baked goods and passing them off as your own.
I soon learned to cancel any arrangements in the two nights leading up to our primary school's annual fetes - as I would be spending hours on end creaming organic butter and free range eggs to make lighter-than-air fairy cakes (using Nigella's recipe, of course.) Each cake was carefully iced in a rainbow of assorted colours and equally carefully scattered with hundreds and thousands to give them that shabby chic touch. It was all worth it as child after child eagerly handed over their 10ps.
At some point, of course - usually when they leave primary school - all of this becomes less important. You have to find a new outlet for that competitive spirit. But there's always the costumes for the 6th form play...


Thursday, 12 March 2009

Jade's heartbreak

There was an unbearably poignant moment in last night's Jade when she looked out of the helicopter taking to her wedding venue at the sunset and fields and trees below. 'If I die, I'm going to miss all this,' she said, her enormous eyes filling with tears.
And in that simple statement she summed up the absolute agony of her plight.
By the time I got to bed, the dawn chorus had already started. My son was safely tucked up, fast asleep. And I felt like the luckiest woman alive.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Hello dolly

Barbie is 50 today, and apart from her failed marriage to the clearly closeted Ken, she's spent the last five decades enjoying incredible success as a leading cultural icon. She's seen off the likes of Pippa and Sindy to maintain her status as the No 1 doll of choice, enjoyed the kind of mass merchandising Katie Price must dream about, starred in several hugely popular animated films, and been immortalised in an annoyingly catchy Danish pop song.
But most importantly, she has maintained her flawless skin, cellulite-free thighs and super-toned tummy without the need for botox, lipo or a tummy tuck. And that makes her a heroine for women everywhere.

Lost in a bizarre love quadrangle

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better (or more confusing), Lost goes and throws a curveball.
In the beginning, as far as love on the island went at least, it was all so simple. Jack fancied Kate. Kate fancied Jack. Sawyer also fancied Kate, but even though she knew he looked good with his shirt off, she was repelled by him.
Then Kate and Sawyer were locked up together and she realised she did fancy him, after all. Meanwhile, evil doctor Juliet became one of the good guys, and Jack realised he fancied her, and she realised she fancied him. Everyone was paired off nicely. But then Kate and Jack left the island... leaving Sawyer and Juliet behind.
Last night's episode revealed that Sawyer and Juliet are now living (along with Jin and those two scientists) in the Seventies. It's too complicated to explain why. They are now part of the once feared Dharma Initiative, a sort of commune. Juliet has long hippie hair and Sawyer is wearing fetching floral shirts. He is clean shaven and has new glasses.
But their retro style isn't the only dramatic change. Because Juliet and Sawyer are now an item. First we see them snogging by the sink, and then they're in bed together. 'I love you,' Juliet purrs. 'I love you too,' Sawyer says.
But we know she's not the first to capture his complicated heart. 'I used to love a woman,' Sawyer tells the eccentric leader of the Dharma Initiative. 'But I've forgotten what she looked like.' He doesn't say her name, but we know he means Kate.
The next morning, he's in bed with Juliet. Suddenly the phone rings. Sawyer races off, wearing his beige Dharma Initiative jumpsuit but still sexy as hell, and arrives on a clifftop just as a blue VW camper pulls up.
No prizes for guessing who gets out. Yes, straight from the year 2000-and-something (no time to explain why) it's Hurley, Jack... and gasp, Kate. She is looking at him from underneath her eyelashes, smiling shyly. Even though we know she's slept with Jack in the meantime, it's clear she hasn't forgotten Sawyer. She still wants him.
And it's clear from Sawyer's expression that not only has he not forgotten what Kate looks like, he still loves her.
Like I said, a curveball.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Tough love

Julie Myerson is clearly an intelligent and gifted writer. She says she and her husband tried everything they could to persuade their eldest son to give up skunk, before finally admitting defeat and asking him to leave their home.
It seems a particularly harsh step to take, but I don't doubt that she is a loving, caring mother who found herself in an impossible situation. While I cannot comprehend why she and her husband would have thrown their eldest child out of the family home at the age of just 17, I believe her when she says that after two years of constant battling, they thought that was the only course of action left to them.
Of course, as a writer, this must have seemed like obvious material for a book, a gift. The book, The Lost Child, is published next week, already guaranteed a place in the bestseller lists thanks to the advance publicity caused by the public war of words between mother and son.
Caught up in a media furore, Julie is now giving interviews lamenting the fact that her entire family have been doorstepped by the press. 'It's really hard to talk about it,' she says in an interview with today's Sunday Times, apparently close to tears. 'It's hard to talk about it,' she said on this morning's Sky News, again apparently close to tears, adding she has been taken aback at the attention.
Given her experience as a writer - not just of books, but also for magazines and newspapers - this seems ridiculously naive and also disingenuous.
Presumably when she and her husband locked their son out of his home they were hoping he would realise the consequences of smoking skunk, and come to his senses. Perhaps she should have thought about the possible consequences of her actions - and in particular, the impact it might have on her two younger children - before she decided to invite the world into her family's private life.

This must be Jade's legacy

I was 20 when I was diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells. Fortunately they were caught in time, and after laser treatment, I was as good as new.
Since then, however, in England the age for having your first smear test has been raised from 20 to 25. The argument is that there are so many cell changes happening anyway during this five year period that testing can throw up misleading results.
But if that's really the case, why is it only in England that woman are tested from the age of 25? In Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, it's still 20. Are we really to believe that English women are less at risk from contracting cervical cancer, or less able to cope with misleading results, or start having sex later, than our Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh cousins? Of course not.
So the argument that it's not in our interest to be tested from 20 simply doesn't work. I suspect that, like the IVF postcode lottery, it's simply a question of funding.
What we do know is that in Jade's case, her cancer was, for various reasons, missed - until it was too late. Whether or not it would have been caught had she had a smear test earlier, which might have revealed cell changes, it's impossible to say.
But if there is even a chance, however small, that a young woman's life might be saved by early screening, then surely it's a chance worth taking.

alien vs predator

From the moment my family queued round the block to see Star Wars at Streatham Odeon, I've had Scully-style leanings, fascinated by the idea that We Are Not Alone. If I won the lottery, I would definitely become a space tourist - I can totally understand that urge to explore the final frontier.
What I can't understand, however, is why, when US unemployment figures are at an all time-high (and apparently continuing to rise), NASA have just launched a $650million (at least) exploration mission in a bid to discover signs of life on other planets. Forget life on Mars. In the current climate, it's life down here that counts.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Singing the blues

Poor Cheryl Cole. The air must be Chelsea blue around Mount Kilimanjaro today. Because while the nation's sweetheart has been scaling a mountain in aid of Comic Relief, her wayward hubby Ashley has been arrested for being 'drunk and disorderly'.
But is anyone really surprised at this latest turn of events? Ashley appears to be suffering from a major Peter Pan complex - he simply refuses to grow up. So, like a little boy, he wants lots of toys (we won't go there) and shiny cars. And as soon as his wife's back is turned, he misbehaves. You half expect him to throw a party and announce it on Facebook.
Unless Cheryl wants to play Wendy for the rest of her married life, maybe it's time to kick him into touch.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

one day at a time

It has finally happened. The moment I have been waiting for for the past three years. All those years of cajoling - or as he defines it - 'nagging', have paid off at last.
Because this morning, totally out of the blue, my teenage son actually made his bed without being asked.
I am trying not to get too excited. His dirty pyjamas still hadn't made it into the laundry basket, and there's a sticky mess made by a leftover sweet on the top of his chest of drawers. But it's progress.
What makes it particularly surprising is that like all males, including his father, grandfather and uncles, he has developed that stock-in-trade response to any reasonable domestic request: 'I've only got one pair of hands'.
This simple sentence is continually repeated like a mantra by men the world over. And it's probably one of the biggest lies they tell women (along with 'Of course your bum doesn't look too big' and 'Of course I'll still love you tomorrow'.)
Because even though they can play any sport, down any drink and master any XBox or Wii game while simultaneously chatting to their mates, men continue to perpetuate the myth that they can Only Do One Thing at a time.
Therefore, although it is perfectly possible for them to eat and make a mess, they cannot then stack the dishwasher and clean up after themselves. While they can get dressed, they cannot use the washing machine or tumbledryer. And so it goes on.
So while I'm hopeful the bed-making incident heralds the start of a new domestic dawn, I suspect I'm going to be disappointed.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A bird in the hand...

A press release has just pinged into my in-box announcing the arrival of the latest beauty must-have from Oz: the Tasmanian Triangle, or to use its nickname, the 'Tasi'.
If you're of a nervous disposition, look away now. The Tasi is a bikini wax which apparently gives you slightly more modesty than a Brazilian. To make it even more low-maintenance, you can have those unsightly hairs... (wince, cross legs) lasered off.
Tweezing and waxing are all very well (in moderation), but I've never really understood the obsession with defuzzing your undercarriage until it resembles a plucked chicken. Like Kath Day-Knight-style perms or a naughty text from Shane Warne, this is a trend probably best left Down Under.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Dare to bare?

Horrors. Apparently the exposed midriff is set to be revived as one of this summer's big looks. The No1 rule of fashion is that if you wore it first time round, you shouldn't wear it again. So, like the exposed-thong-over-jeans look that was so popular in the early Noughties, unless you're under 25 with a stomach as flat as an ironing board, this is one trend you probably shouldn't follow. My own belly looks like uncooked pastry. I'm sure it will come as a relief to know that I'll be remaining fully covered up.

Roots

It comes as no surprise that genealogy is now huge, with more and more of us trying to confirm who we think we are.
Four years ago, I embarked on researching my own family history. It's frustrating, time-consuming, can be expensive (particularly if you need certificates/parish records) but ultimately incredibly rewarding.
The reason for my journey was simple. My dad died shortly before my 21st birthday, totally unexpectedly. He was a wonderful man who treated my sister and I like rare gems, and I felt - and still do feel - his loss acutely. But with him died answers to a thousand questions about his family, his ancestors, that I had never thought to ask while he was alive.
Through research, I've managed to get back to the 17th century on my paternal side (the maternal, mostly Irish side is slightly more complicated). I've uncovered long lost cousins, war heroes, tales of incredible bravery, and desperately sad stories worthy of any episode of Who Do You Think You Are?
Gradually I have built up a picture of my dad's family background, and the experiences which made him into the person he was. I feel I know him better now. And it means that, when they ask, I can bring his story to life for the grandchildren he didn't live long enough to see.

Not another brick in the wall

My ex has just been made a director at a globally renowned company. My brother-in-law has also been promoted at the high profile government organisation where he works. Both these men hail from different parts of the world, but the one thing they have in common is that neither of them have a university degree.
For those graduates looking with despair at the current job market, or those students nearing the end of their courses, it must seem like the last three or four years of their lives have been a total waste of time.
Yes, well, been there, and tried on the t-shirt. My friends and I graduated and joined the job market just as the last big recession hit Britain. Some of us temped until we got into our chosen field, or saved up to go travelling. Children, mortgages and responsibility were a long way off, so the one thing we did have in our favour was freedom.
Slowly, however, all that grafting started to pay off. My first proper job in journalism paid a whopping £8k per annum. But I slogged away and kept learning and by the time I was 24 I had a column in a national newspaper.
Those mates who used to join me propping up the student union bar are now TV producers, journalists, politicians and solicitors. None of us did 'vocational' courses at uni. Instead we enjoyed learning for learning's sake (and a healthy amount of partying, of course).
Yes, there have been dark times for all of us (although maybe not quite as dark as this). But hard work and perseverance always pay off, and although we may have regretted some decisions, going to uni definitely wasn't one of them.
A friend who is a member of the landed gentry is amused by what she describes as the 'middle class obsession' with education. But she was born into a life of privilege. The rest of us have to earn to achieve our goals, and while a degree or diploma won't guarantee you'll walk straight into the job of your dreams, it will improve your career prospects.
Of course, I am fiercely proud of what my ex and my brother-in-law have achieved. Would they have got there a little faster if they had a degree? Who knows - and in the current climate, it doesn't really matter. University isn't necessarily a means to an end, and if you view it that way, then you'll be disappointed. What it is, however, is one of the best experiences of your life - and you can make of it whatever you choose.

It's not what you know...

Some girls have all the luck. Dasha Zhukova, the beautiful, wealthy girlfriend of Roman Abramovich, has been made Editor of Bauer's Pop magazine. She has, apparently, fantastic contacts and vision.
What she doesn't have, however, is any experience as a journalist, and that's why her appointment is bad news for those of us who work in the media, and for magazines in particular.
At a time when major publishers are shedding hundreds of jobs, the concept of someone waltzing in as an Editor simply because they know, are related to or are sleeping with the right people sends out an appalling message. For all those interns and work experiences struggling to make their mark, for all those journalists struggling to keep their jobs, for all those Editors struggling with ever decreasing budgets and the threat of redundancies looming over their teams, it suggests that talent, news sense, enthusiasm and commitment will soon count for nothing.
The Devil doesn't just wear Prada. She has a Russian billionaire boyfriend as well.

Learned behaviour

Parents have been bombarding the BBC online message boards with angry posts. No, Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross haven't been presenting Big Cook Little Cook, although I'd pay my licence fee twice to see that. No, the target of their fury is Cerrie Burnell, the 29-year-old CBeebies presenter.
Cerrie is a warm, friendly, attractive young woman who happens to have been born without a hand. She takes her disability in her stride and has chosen not to wear a prosthetic arm.
What a shame the parents who have complained to the BBC can't be more accepting. They claim she has been 'scaring' their children. One dad has even banned his child from watching CBeebies altogether, stating that seeing a woman with one hand will give them 'nightmares'.
What a load of balamory. I doubt very much that the little ones who had tuned in to watch their favourite CBeebies programmes were instantly repelled by Cerrie. After all, they watch a slightly disturbing talking sponge and a group of unintelligible creatures with TV aerials sticking out of their heads with no apparent ill-effect. They should be able to cope with seeing another human being with a slight disability.
I suspect what happened is that their parents over reacted to the sight of Cerrie Burnell on their TV screens, and voiced their disgust to their offspring. Children are very susceptible to the power of suggestion, whether it's from their parents, their peers or their carers, and that's why it's up to us to ensure they don't fear, isolate or reject anyone who might be different to them.
The fact that some adults, who really should know better, think it's acceptable in 2009 to complain about a disabled TV presenter means that we really haven't made any progress, and that's very worrying. We all need to confront our own prejudices - and resist the temptation to pass them on to our children.

Friday, 27 February 2009

no fly zone

The news that Ryanair may start charging its customers for using the loo while on board is yet another reason not to fly with the 'low-cost' carrier. It is simply inhumane to expect people to fly without free and unlimited access to a loo - particularly if you're travelling with small children, you're pregnant, nervous or simply have a weak bladder. If Michael O'Leary is intending to drive customers away with this latest own goal then he's doing a sterling job. It is a PR disaster of Gerald Ratner proportions, and it's only a matter of time before Ryanair customers start voting with their wallets and choose to fly with another airline entirely.

The crying game

It started with Diana. That sea of bouquets outside Kensington Palace, the endless press coverage, the state funeral. It was as though the nation’s heart was broken.
One of my then colleagues spent three days crying and obsessively reading every column inch written about the late Princess, while the rest of us were working round the clock to pull together a tribute issue. When I suggested that, as we were on a weekly magazine with urgent deadlines to meet, it might be helpful if she could pitch in, she looked at me with genuine horror. ‘Liz, this is the most important thing that has ever happened to our country,’ she gasped, before returning to her tear-stained clippings.
Hmm. I suspect two World Wars had the upper hand there, but I could see from her reddened eyes that there was no point in arguing.
So much for that stiff upper lip. We have become a nation of mourners, sobbing over celebrities and the high profile, crying over people we are unlikely to have even met, and writing in condolence books that we know, from experience, are likely to end up on rubbish tips.
This is of course, largely due to the media, and yes, mea culpa. Grief sells newspapers and magazines. While death may still be the final taboo, it is as though as a nation we find it easier to grieve over strangers than to mourn the everyday tragedies in the world around us. For those struggling to survive in the credit crunch, or dealing with a personal crisis, it’s probably more tolerable to focus their energy on those they have never met than to face up to what is happening in their own lives. There is always someone worse off, and as anyone who has watched an episode of Gray’s Anatomy will testify, sobbing can be incredibly cathartic.
But there is something a little distasteful about this collective outpouring of grief. The recent tragic death of David Cameron’s son, six-year-old Ivan, is a case in point.

While everyone can sympathise with the Camerons’ sadness, unless you have a disabled child or have lost a child yourself, it’s unlikely you really understand what this quietly dignified couple are feeling. Empathy is all very well, but did the death of one – seriously ill - child really deserve quite so much press coverage? Great Ormond Street and the children’s hospices around the country have hundreds of similar stories.
It is as though we want to make it our tragedy, to ‘own’ it. But the horrible truth is that it is the Camerons’ loss and theirs alone to bear, and they and their family and friends will be left with their tears and memories long after we’ve moved on to grieve for another stranger.
Wendy Richard was a very watchable actress, a trouper who bravely fought breast cancer. But I am not sure her passing warranted a full-page splash on our best-selling newspaper. And yes, I too have shed tears over Jade Goody’s rapid decline – although I have at least met her on a few occasions. I know I will be upset when she dies, not least because it’s the waste of a young life, and will leave two little boys motherless. But I can’t even remember so much collective outpouring of grief over the Twin Towers or 7/7, and that, surely, means we’re getting things out of perspective.
Maybe it’s that when there’s so much tragedy in the world, it’s easier to sob over one individual than hundreds of lost lives. But the unpalatable truth is that all around us there are disasters happening on a daily basis. The death of young men in Afghanistan and Iraq. The victims of the Australian bush fires. The countless people who weren’t lucky enough to make it into an Oscar-winning movie, doomed to a life in the Indian slums. The continued abuse and neglect of children throughout the world. Global warming. The exploitation of animals. The senseless murders of teenagers on our streets.
Those are the real tragedies. It’s time to get a grip.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

There's something about Don...

Ah, the allure of the Toxic Married Mad Man. Don Draper may be fictious, but for the time being, at least, he’s simply the sexiest man to grace our smallish screens since Sawyer first stripped to his waist in Lost.
So what makes Don so attractive? Well, we know he’s a provider, the breadwinner, a reasonably (for the era) hands-on dad and fairly decent guy, which instantly makes him a ‘catch’, as Peggy would say. He’s a sharp-dresser, well-mannered – you just know he would never leave the loo seat up.
But more importantly, he’s a demon in the boardroom, and of course, the bedroom. In fact, had he been around today, rather than in the Sixties, Don would have been a Grade A Playa. He’s powerful, he knows how to cut a deal, and he only has to look at a woman for her knickers to drop. He’s also an enigma - not even his name is the one he was born with. And that combination of raw sex appeal, razor-sharp business acumen and dangerous air of mystery makes him irresistible.
The beauty of Mad Men is that you can enjoy his powers of seduction from a safe viewing distance, without ever having to fall prey to his deadly charms. In real life, of course, Don Drapers should be avoided at all costs.