Desert Island Playlist.

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 4 March 2021

Even people who don't listen to BBC Radio 4 know about 'Desert Island Discs'. Eleven o'clock of a Sunday. After the 'Archers' and before something else. Every Sunday at 11.45 I get a phone call from a woman living in Goudhurst, then I get a call from a woman living in Medway. We pick apart the contributor, discuss their choice of records/discs and then decide whether they were entertaining, boring or deeply offensive. To date Helen McCrory has been top of our list. But there have been loads who have prompted sighs over the sink, or even a grumble of irritation. Dame Floella Benjamin prompted a deeply intense discussion on entitlement, Colonialism and Play School.

When Sophia Loren was on each piece of music was more gut wrenching than the last. I loved it and her. She set me thinking. I cannot be the only person who has wondered about their eight recordings were they to be chosen for solitary confinement. When once it was a rare honour to be dumped on Roy Plumley's strange little island, now we have extraordinary castaways from all over everywhere interviewed by Miss Lauren Laverne.

Since the show started in 1942, 3,227 castaways have been tossed onto Aunty Beebs' sleepy lagoon. Of course we assume they all got rescued, although the old git is convinced they are hiding in the palm trees or sheltering in caves. But whilst I haven't heard all of the programmes I have heard many hosted by the resplendent Michael Parkinson, the profoundly poash Sue Lawley, the charismatic Kirsty Young and now the fragrant Lauren L.

When the astronaut Tim Peake revealed his choice of music to accompany him on the empty atoll I realised what a total fucking musical snob I was/am. Not that I've got anything against 'Aerosmith' or 'Monty Python', but I wanted the only British geezer to be floating around in space, to have perhaps a more reflective choice. Coming as I do from the Ashkenazy tribe which is all doom, gloom and culture, I was brought up on Rachmaninoff, Verdi, and a heavy dose of Bruch's violins. If my mother wasn't sobbing into her apron then the music was deemed shallow and colourless. So bearing in mind I've only got eight discs and that I've been drowned in music since birth leaving stuff out is harder than putting stuff in. But here goes:

I would take one of my dawters songs, so I could hear her lovely voice. Of course it would make me cry but I told you I am all doom and gloom and if nows not the time for indulging the Jewish Mother then when is?

I started learning the piano aged five, then continued to study classical music until I was seventeen. So my second choice for the islet would be Jaques Loussier's version of 'Gymnopedie' by Sartie. If only to piss off Miss Spottiswood, my purist piano teacher, who thought that adulterated, jazzy music of any kind was a crime against humanity.

I'd take the Chilean protest song 'El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido' , to remind me of my many youthful years fighting to change the world with song, political theatre and interpretive dance. How naive I was. Those South Americans would make me howl but I could march round the Island still believing that people united will never be defeated.

For twenty eight years I listened to music with a classical ear, then into my life walked the Northern Git who played guitar, bass and drums and taught me to listen to a song from the bass line up and so Steely Dan's 'Kid Charlemaine' would be wailing out into the palms reminding me of my family's ability to sing the sublime guitar solo in unison.

And where would I be without Stevie Wonder. It would have to be 'I'll be loving you Always' because that is what the 'oosbind melted my heart to and cos it's over seven minutes long and because Stevie has been the backdrop to our lives for over forty years, why even as the mourners laid sunflowers on my mothers casket Mr. Wonder sung her over to the other side.

I would take Bob James 'Terpsichore' - dinner jazz - because it's one of our go to albums when we sit down to eat and because it has become our comfort blanket when things get sticky. During the pandemic Bob has been played relentlessly.

I would take Chopin's 'First Ballade' because I played it and so did Mr. Rangely on the school halls piano, and because Mr. R changed my life by getting me to drama school, and because it was played when I visited my first acupuncturist who got me off drugs in the 70's, and because when we ran out of money in Valldemossa, Majorca, instead of going into Chopin's museum we stood underneath an open window and listened to a pianist playing on Chopin's very own piano - so good old Freddie Chopin would have to accompany me to my archipelago.

Number six would be the overture to 'Tannhauser', I know he had questionable politics but what better way to get rid of all that frustration whilst waiting for your lift home than belting out a bit of Wagner, I told you I was a snob.

The criteria for picking the music is different for all us castaways. All my musical choices are about family and me, so here's one that's work related. I used Edmundo Ross's 'Moulin Rouge' on my radio show - is there anything better than dancing to a latin beat, whilst wearing a homemade grass skirt accompanied by a band of swinging musicians shaking their maracas.

But my final choice would have to be Bach. J.S. and all six of his Brandenburg concertos, not one but all six of them. I'll plead with Ms Laverne and call her a mealy mouthed meany if she doesn't let me take them all.

So which one disc would I save from the salty waves? Well it would have to be Stevie because however much of a snob I am none of those classical dudes know how to rub my feet, clean my windows or generally make my life worth living, so the old git wins hands down every time.

They'd give me the Bible, but I may ask to change it for 'The Tripitaka' the earliest collection of Buddhist teachings, they'll give me Shakespeare which would take me an eternity to get through, and my book of choice would be a colouring book of a map of the stars so I could lie on my back and work out the constellations. My luxury would have to be an endless supply of paper and colourful pens so I could scribble and draw, dribble and weep, because however lovely the island may be, I would be totally useless without him and her and all of the others that I love in my life.

This coming Sunday actor Mark strong is sharing the soundtrack to his life, he was born Marco Giuseppe Salussolia to an Austrian mother and an Italian father. I'll be listening in the kitchen, cup of coffee in hand, three dates for sweetness and a big box of tissues at the ready, because with that heritage I have high hopes.

Permalink | Comments (0)

House Guests

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 17 February 2021

Who can forget their first ever saucer with a piece of paper sprinkled over with mustard and cress seeds? The excitement as the little green shoots emerged, then the sheer pleasure of eating those newly sprouted leaves with a cut up hardboiled egg on a mound of cold butter that tore holes in a slice of thin white bread. Lurpak spreadable didn't exist then.

I came from a family of horticultural experimenters. Every window sill was filled with small pots of wonderment. My mother planted everything from tomato seeds, straight out of the tomato, avocado stones, the tops of pineapples and lemon pips. Her grandawter has inherited her green fingers. Whilst Covid is ravaging she has set up a mini Kew garden in her bedroom.

Two Cacti, a wilting Monstera, a Rubber plant which used to be mine, a Yucca which used to be mine, a bushy Ivy, various un-named species, a lemon tree that she says is a thirsty bitch, and cuttings from whatever she can lay her hands on.

I too have greeny type fingers which I have put to use over the years. My first attic was in Putney. A record player, books and a baby rubber tree accompanied me. I bought a little bottle of leaf shine and stroked the leaves whilst listening to James Taylor and dreaming of stardom. When I toured abroad the plants would go back to my parents home where my mother laid hands on them.

Throughout my peripatetic years plants always accompanied me along with clothes, cooking utensils and candelabras. Hiring vans to transport my personal effects as well as a harmonium, three tons of books and my collection of houseplants was a regular occurrence. Accommodation was easier to come by then. But it occurs to me that the dawters' rubber tree must be nearly fifty years old. She tames her plants way better than I.

In the spring of 1970 I worked for a bit in Dudu's, a clothing boutique next to Peter Jones in Swiss Cottage. I got bored folding coco coloured tee shirts, and left soon after visiting a customer who lived down the road. She was a Native American clairvoyant who had an enormous orange tree growing in her window. It was the first time I had seen real oranges dangling on a real tree in front of my very eyes. She told me to leave Dudu and pursue a career in the arts. Which of course I did, far be it from me not to listen to a sooth-saying Sioux see-er.

I invested in the plants of the time. I had the ubiquitous chlorophytum comosum, otherwise know as the Spider Plant which everybody displayed in the 70's. I moved in with an American photographer who had lied about her age. We lived in a rented house in Queen's Crescent, North London, on the 24 bus route and round the corner from Hampstead Heath. I slept on a divan on the ground floor. and watered my plants daily. With my first pay cheque from the BBC I invested in an innovative stereo system, the speakers flanked by two spider plants that stood on the top shelves in my extended bedroom. Their spidery leaves cascading over the works of the likes of Oscar Wilde, Simone De Beauvoir and Betty Friedan's 'Feminist Mystique' - why there's even a photograph of Betty in her youth, posing next to, what I suspect, is a Ficus Benjamina.

Whilst on tour in Hull, I had a phone call from my housemate. We had been burgled. The police were adamant that losing my music system and my pulverised spider plants was better than losing my life which is what would have happened had I been home. The thieves had dived onto the divan and beaten the living daylights out of the scatter cushions thinking they were me. That rubber plant survived.

After falling backwards into the arms of a group of itinerant actors and meeting the Thespian husband, the old git and I set up home in Wapping - the rubber plant retrieved from Boreham Wood stood by the window overlooking the River Thames.

With time came money and our move out of London in 1984. My friend's mother was one of the first female voices to be heard on the BBC's home service. As well as her mellifluous voice Margaret was a prolific gardener. A cutting was taken from her Begonia Rex. That one cutting now has more offshoots than Monty Don's publications. There's one on the sitting room window sill, one on the kitchen window sill, one in the dawters bedroom, ( beautifully trained) a fantastic specimen in the attic, that drips pink jewelled flowers every year and several cuttings that I have sent through the post to a host of gardeners who have propagated it even more. Margaret's legacy lives on through Brexit, Covid and Gardeners Question Time.

The only real arguments I have with the old bastard is when he gets scissor happy and prunes. He destroyed a Passion flower, that had been nurtured for fifteen years, he cut away my bower of dog roses, and the garden now has three apple trees that look like they have been amputated by a sociopathic butcher. He says he's breathing life back into them.

During my Battersea period I visited my Swedish acupuncturist near Wandsworth common. Her flat, a symphony of beige and natural coconut fibre, is adorned with a few orchids and an Aloe Vera which she keeps in her Scandinavian bedroom. She gave me a cutting, years ago, which now stands in the kitchen window all mighty and plump. If I need to calm down sunburn I break off a stem and slather the aloe on my skin, when I remember.

The last influx of indoor greenery happened in 2012. Apart from the Olympics the other momentous occasion in that year was the death of my mother. We gave her clothes away to the appropriate charities, her furniture to the appropriate house clearers and I rescued some of her plants; a flourishing money plant, a delicious succulent which has been propagated and loved. Unfortunately three little versions of the money spinner were trashed by the weather, so I will pinch off some little shoots and carry on her legacy. The big Money Plant stands in the attic looking in the right direction according to Feng Shui. I also rescued my mother's 'mother-in-law's tongue' which I gave to the 'oosbind to tend in the studio. The old bugger was far too busy hacking away at the creeping hydrangea when I found the Dracaena trifasciata standing outside the studio door wilted and swollen with rain. I shouted that he had let my mother be pissed on from a great height.

I took the ailing plant into the house, talked to it, dried it out and before you could say, "where has nine fucking years gone?" that mother-in-law's tongue is packed into a huge flowerpot and shoots it's variegated leaves up to the sky. It spent some of last summer outside. Then a few months ago I brought it in and put it on the same window sill as the money plant.

Yesterday I went upstairs to get new laundry form the airing cupboard. I looked and looked again, a double take of horror! Around the flower pot lay tiny pellets of mother-in-law's tongue. I called up the 'oosbind who climbed the stairs quicker than Sherpa Tensing ascending the Himalayas. Being too squeamish to look in the pot I pointed the 'Grim Reaper' at the Dracaena trifasciata. He carried the heavy pot down two flights of stairs and into the front garden. It was then that we noticed each and every tongue of that mother had been nibbled. Chunks had been chewed away. The old git turned the pot upside down and found two beetles and some wood lice. My mothers tongues had been feeding a colony of hungry crustaceans. The dawter, sensitive to my distress, carried the pot through the house to the bench outside the kitchen, standing on Dennis the cat (who screamed) and repotted that beautiful specimen. She left out one clump which is now in a vase of water waiting to throw out roots. My mother lives on.

For isn't that what plants do, carry on regardless with the help of us humans?

So as time and tide await no fucker, I recently read that academics at an Australian university have told staff to stop using the words mother and father in favour of terms like gestational parent and non-birthing parent in order to deliver gender-inclusive education.

What will become of us and my gestational parents'-in-laws tongues?

I'm all for being woke, but FFS......

Permalink | Comments (1)


Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 16 February 2021

Bacon laced with nitrates

Chicken doused with bleach

Using them for pigs and fowls

Will fuck up all our healthy bowels

It's time to Act not preach.


A trade deal with the US

Negotiating evil

Of chemically processed food

That won't do us an ounce of good

Is sleeping with the Devil.


Those Bastard Brexit Bungladeers

Have well and truly fucked it

Behind the mask of Covid

They have landed us in deep shit.


A Visa if you've got a band

A Visa if you're touring

A Visa if you have a mind

A Visa for exploring

A Visa for the drummer

A Visa for the danseuse

A Visa for the Sax and Bass

A Visa for the chanteuse


A Visa costing loadsa cash

Is now the artists plight

Whilst those Bastard Brexit Bungladeers

Have done it in plain sight.


Thems Bastard Brexit Bungladeers

Have shat squarely on our heads

From high they dropped their fecal bombs

On dreamers in their beds.

But now its time to wake up

Wipe the sleep out from our eyes

For the Phoenix ever rises

And rebellion never dies

Permalink | Comments (1)

Knit one pearl one

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 8 February 2021

As the snow covers the Hellebores I've just read that James Dean would have been 90 this week, he died when I was six.

Neither Mr. Dean nor Mr. Presley were visitors in our house, our house - one of the first to have quadraphonic sound - preferred to fill the air waves with Mr. Sinatra, Ms Fitzgerald, Coltrane and Gospel. My father played drums on a biscuit tin using knitting needles, my mother harmonised to Doris Day, and I practiced my five finger exercises whilst swooning over a singer from Lucknow, India. Cliff Richard was a sanitised version of Elvis, who had the delicious Jet Harris playing bass for him in the 'Shadows', and his red double decker bus from 'Summer Holiday' was parked in the Studios car park down the hill. I didn't stick pictures of Harry Webb on my bedroom wall, but I did learn all the lyrics to 'Living Doll' and 'The Young Ones'. Travelling back from The Watford School of Music on the big six-wheeler, scarlet painted, London Transport, diesel engine, ninety seven horsepower omnibus. I would climb the spiral stairs to the top deck of the No.306 - reeking of stale fag smoke - that's the bus not me I didn't start smoking till I was 18 - sit next to a window, wipe away the condensation then, staring at my reflection, I would practice curling my lip like Cliff. I can still twerk my lips in opposite directions on both sides, a skill of absolutely no use to anybody.

Our slum clearance house was a new build with a little open fire and a coal bunker outside the kitchen door. My father decorated every year painting over the wood chip wall paper. We were the very first to have a totally black living room wall in front of which stood Ercol furniture, designed by Lucian Ercolani, whose 'simple goal was to create well-designed, quality furniture made with pride by trained craftsmen'. My father, though unschooled, had a keen eye. Our contemporary home was carpeted and dust free, not to mention the garage full of knocked off toasters.

I would place the beautifully crafted ash tree rocking chair in front of the record player and put Dionne Warwick on the turn table. I taught myself to sing to Burt Bacharach, who shared my mother's birth date. My stage mother turned down the role of 'Buttercup' in the annual school production of Gilbert and Sullivan, preferring that I took the limelight. 'HMS Pinafore' featured several naughty boys playing sailors, Dave Green, who played my love interest and me. I can remember standing centre stage, speaking a line, waiting for the laugh, then extending the pause over the three nights and basking in the glorious embrace of the biggest laugh of the three. My first review in the Boreham Wood Post, which I still have in a flimsy scrap book my mother used for all my endeavours, wrote that I was the next Dora Bryan, who was a minuscule comedienne who ended up living in Brighton and cocking her leg up in the air whenever she could. The review said I had wonderful comic timing but that I couldn't sing for toffee. Hence me sitting in the rocking chair doing my sing-along-with-Dionne.

I was once told by a psychologist that if you get lost in life, returning to your dreams of the six year old version of you will clarify your purpose. I never had any doubt that I would grow up to be a loud mouthed performer. I always wanted to act. There is a photograph of me, aged three, with Jazz hands, singing Al Jolson's' 'Toot Toot Tootsie' at a Communist Party Social. I'm bobbing about in a purple and green silky number wih matching bunched knickers. The ensemble had been sent over from the wealthy American relatives along with boxes of Philadelphian cream cheese.

My first proper performance was as 'The Queen of Hearts' in my primary school's Christmas show. The reviews, talking about the stillness I exuded, was attributed to the weight of the handmade cone hat my mother had made. I think she fashioned it out of concrete; any attempt to move my head would have resulted in a dislocated neck. I inherited my mother's crafty techniques when I created an Easter bonnet for the Dawter. I glued plastic flowers, faux fur rabbits, ribbons, chocolates and full blown eggs onto the crown of the straw hat. My poor uncomplaining child hid in the outdoor toilets and hung her heavy head to stay away from the judging.

I cannot sew, I will not crochet, but I can knit. An activity I took up whilst performing in the West End. I appeared in the second half of 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist', so had at least an hour and a half in my dressing room before I went on. I would nip next door to Gaby's deli in the interval and buy salt beef on rye for the cast and, whilst noshing on pickles, I would assemble needles and wool and set about deciphering Patricia Roberts' knitting patterns. Ms Roberts was all the rage in the 80's. I chose a Fair Isle sweater using multi coloured yarns. Not traditional for me, instead of muted sepia tones I used purple, yellow, green ,blue red and gawd knows what else. Every night for ten months I cast on and off, plaited and twisted, and created a sweater of rare design. I'd make my entrance, wait for my laugh - a la 'Buttercup' - take my bow and go home. On my last night I packed up my pancake, kissed goodbye to 'The Wyndhams Theatre' and drove home with my completed knitwear. I had been taught how to wash wool by a flat-mate. Trickling luke warm water into the kitchen sink she would add soap flakes, and gently massage her garments. Whilst running the Ascot to rinse her delicates she would say,

'Never twist the wool. Squeeze and squeeze again keeping the fibres in tact.'

Her laundry skills acquired from her independent public school education have stayed with me. There were very few woking class actresses when I begun. I had to rely on the upper echelons to teach me how to wash Cashmere, how to cook a proper omelette in butter in a searingly hot heavy frying pan, how to place a napkin on my lap surreptitiously, never to call it a serviette and to always sit with my knees together. Where would I be without Roedean.

I unpacked my theatrical suitcase and looked at my Fairisle; it was beautiful. Throwing my bits into the washing machine I retired into the living room to watch Joan Collins in 'Dynasty'. The spinning cycle finished I climbed out of my red bean bag and emptied the drum. Hidden in between my smalls was a dolly's pullover. On closer inspection my laybours of ten months had been shrunk beyond recognition into an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny multi-coloured matted beanie. Had I known I was going to have a baby seven years later I might had kept it.

You know when the actor isn't acting they are 'restin', as Priti Patel would say. When an actor is resting they are also worrying, kvetching, taking up hobbies and hustling to buy their daily bread; always the state of affairs that 98 per cent of my industry live with, though at the moment Covid may have increased that number to 99 percent.

After 'Wyndhams' I carried on knitting having falling in love with Kaffe Fassett and his designs. I knitted floppy sweaters and scarves. I made big knits for the younguns, big knits on big needles. I made vintage garments from vintage patterns and I knitted a Guernsey for the old git. It was made in Guernsey blue wool on circular needles and had his initials knitted into the ribbed hem, thus identifying him should he fall overboard from whatever clipper he was sailing on. I knitted and knitted, keeping the tension tight, not with me and the old git, but the tension needed when working in tiny little stitches. I completed the masterpiece the day I was cast in a sitcom. Forty years on the sweater still looks impressive, though age has not withered him age has certainly changed the 'oosbinds dimensions. The navy blue Guernsey has been banished to the back of his cupboard alongside an 18 inch sponge phallus from his stint at the National Theatre playing a Satyr in 'The Trackers of Oxyrinchus'.

My Aunty Esther knitted under the bed clothes, my mother knitted hats and socks in broad daylight and if money weren't tight I would take it up again. But what for? Nobody is going out, nobody wears buttoned up cardigans any more. All the children in the extended family wear either designer bollox or charity shop chic. I have got patterns for a knitted garden, a knitted brick wall and knitted fruit and veg. It occurs to me that were I to rekindle the joy of knitting I would be doing myself a favour. It would keep my fingers busy and eating an Alpaca Kajam Chunky wool aubergine, whilst difficult to chew, would certainly keep the weight off.

Permalink | Comments (2)


Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 3 February 2021

Way before Woolworths was founded a geezer out in India - Sage Patanjali - was credited with inventing Yoga. Trying to silence the mind and tie the body into self realised knots was the Sages' gift to the world. Yoga, India's greatest export apart from Patak's Brinjal Pickle and Petroleum, is a discipline that is performed from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, not to mention the village hall in Pratts Bottom. Now, more than ever, people are looking for something to stop them going mental

For thousands of years people have been bending, shaking, balancing and breathing through independent nostrils to stop them going mental. I have been part of that practice, so-called, because however long I do it I'm still rubbish and though practice does make perfect, in my case, perfection is hidden somewhere between my perineum and the Grafenberg spot.

But why Yoga, when there's Tai Chi, Qi Gong, spinning and jogging to choose from? In my case Yoga came into my life after hearing about Mary Bagot Stack who birthed the Women's League of Health & Beauty. Because I am particularly supple, putting my head on my knees and opening my legs as wide as a mat, is not too far a stretch, even though I'm crap at balancing and as an inverted snob standing on my head is a no no, Yoga has been part of my life for nigh on fifty years.

After leaving drama school 'Watford Palace Theatre' took a punt on me. After 40 weeks of apprenticeship I got my Equity card. Nowadays acting is no longer a closed shop which means that anybody with half a mind can act and mostly they do have half a mind. After a sabbatical at the 'Phoenix Theatre' in Leicester where I landed a boyfriend who wet the bed, I came back to Watford, finished a season then took off to Newcastle with two writers. We lived in a small back to back house, in a street that had a corner shop. Whilst they created I made Shepherds Pie, chased the rats out of the pantry and used a yoga book to keep in shape. My flexibility improved but my patience dwindled. In the end, after a telegram from 'The Leeds Playhouse', I left Newcastle and the two scribes and abandoned the North East. They both became award winning writers and I ended up hammering nails up my nose and chasing ferrets down Sylvester McCoy's trousers.

After years of touring, the old git and I set up home in Wapping, now more expensive than a bicycle rack in Belgravia. Back then we paid sixteen quid a week for a flat on the river which was but a short walk to Aldgate. I found a yoga class near `Tubby Isaacs' jellied eel stall. It's not there now, after 94 years of eating eels with white pepper whilst standing in the road, developers have built shite where it stood and ruined yet another institution. The Yoga teacher was a slender postman from India. He entreated us to practice every day and taught us how to control our butt-ocks. Fifteen years later I was working at the BBC and whilst sitting in the back of a taxi I would have ideas. One such light bulb moment was making a series of little films called 'Ancient and Modern' where we found old-older-oldest characters who were still functioning. We interviewed a hundred year old motor bike enthusiast who went into his motorcycle showroom every day and we included a feller who taught yoga in Battle, near Hastings.

I'd had a flier through my letter-box inviting me to attend a class taught by Indira Nath. I sent my researcher down to the South Coast. She liked him, so off we drove with a cameraman, lighting man, sound man, PA and me. Now one person does it all. Indira lived in a little room, arose everyday at 5.00a.m, meditated, did his yoga, taught some classes, ate a bowl of lentils, meditated again then went to bed at sunset. He was in his 80's. Indira was a Swami ( In Hinduism, a Swami is an honorific title given to an ascetic or yogi) We walked round the grounds of his home with me holding his arm. It occurred to me that physical contact was not allowed with a swami. I asked whether I should remove my arm, he nodded his fine head. 'Do you remember me? I said shamefaced. 'Of course I remember you', he said smiling, for Mr. Nath was indeed the postman from Poplar. He was still exhorting his students to practice everyday and be mindful of their butt-ocks.

I've studied Yoga in sports halls, village halls and school halls. I've been on retreats where we drank green juice and practiced yoga first thing in the morning. I travelled to the 'Optimum Health Institute' in San Diego to flush my system with wheat grass and unholy pipes that were inserted into my anal canal, all done after an early morning yoga routine in the Californian sunshine where the butterflies nibbled on our shoulders to get the salt from our sweaty bodies. I've been to yoga classes in Chatham, Clapham and Tunbridge Wells. But my most favourite class was in Balham; loads of us crammed together, semi naked, sweating our cojonas off in a hot Bikram yoga studio. Actors, teachers, models and me, stretching and posturing as the qualified teacher shouted at us through a head mic - not a spiritual thought in our heads. When Bikram Choudhury faced lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, assault, racism and homophobia nobody was surprised. Hot Bikram yoga was a money spinning keep fit class for the monied spinners who wanted to keep fit.

When I moved back to the cottage parochial yoga took it's place. At the gym I had three different teachers - the young one, the older one and the oldest. They were all good, in their own way. The young one walked between us, giggled and worked us hard, the older one concentrated on our fingers and toes and bending our spines up and down whilst the oldest, who had delicate tattoos on her hand, always gave us the option of doing it one way or the other in a voice so low I struggled to do it at all. Covid put pay to group classes and, as yet, I haven't found a zoom meet. Tunbridge Wells had a brilliant hot yoga teacher; she taught from a studio built in her house. She'd been a ballet dancer, got arthritis, gave up ballet and turned to yoga. Ten of us, at most, parked our cars in the local car park then entered the quiet world of Nuremberg chanteuse Deva Premal singing Sanskrit mantras as we stood like trees - I was always the first to topple over like a felled banyan. After years of dedication the studio went into liquidation; another Corona casualty.

So now I do it in the comfort of my own sitting room on t' internet with an American gal in Costa Rica, a Canadian gal and her dog in Colorado or, on DVD, with Dougie and his dad Sam, who do a class from Sam's studio somewhere in London. Dougie is an actor who worked with the old git, he teaches us to pull in our butt-ocks and smile. Sam does upward and downward dog with us and I follow happily. The trouble is that I notice all the dusting that needs to be done whilst I'm upside down attempting me Trikonasana.

My latest teacher is Gloria Latham, a Lululemon Global Yoga Ambassador who gives us Kundalini yoga from somewhere in North America. There's a good deal of clapping, slapping the floor, jumping up and down, swearing and shouting Ha Ha Harara. If the old git is grilling bacon and brewing coffee, the aroma makes Gloria's work out fucking difficult.

Still I am able to bend forward and put my head on my knees or sit on my heels and bend backwards like a camel. I am able to curl up like a rabbit and pull my legs apart in happy baby pose. I am 72 in 49 days time, and I'm told that crossing my legs, as I do, is not bad for such an ancient old bugger. I want to be able to crouch like an Indian mummy who cooks on an open flame and makes Chana Dahl whilst squatting painlessly. Indira Nath would be proud of my butt-ocks and impressed at my Hanumanasana (Monkey Pose) or as we laygirls call it 'The Splits.' Wearing my furry leggings and a tight vest I can sweat it out like the best of them before settling down to 'Bridgeton' with a glass of brandy and orange, a big bowl of popcorn and not one ounce of guilt in sight.

Permalink | Comments (1)

water ways

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 1 February 2021

It's so quiet I can hear the ticking clock in the kitchen and Dennis' snoring in the sitting room.

The stove is lit, earlier than normal, cos it's a frozen-to-the-marrow-kinda-day, well it is the coldest January for ten years.

I've made a fancy coleslaw using one of those white plastic mandolines that if you're not careful and get the angle wrong you can swipe the top of your effin' finger off.

I made a salad with left overs and have just feasted on a stove top porridge with coriander seeds, and cumin powder. Don't ask!

After four sweet dates I finished my black coffee, but the sleepiness of the silence made me antsy for more food. I resisted. I'll eat later with the old git who is farting around in front of his computer.

My house is full of books. They are shelved in a kind of drunken Dewey System. From kids' books to cook books, history books and plays, I've even got shelves of opera librettos and big art tomes. Whether I read them or not books are the insulation on my empty walls, which means I've got books on the go in every room. 3 poetry anthologies in the kitchen, a Vietnamese autobiography by Ocean Vuong, in the sitting room, John Cooper Clarke's big autobiography (a Christmas present from the 'oosbind) in the bedroom and Lady Anne Glenconner's tell-all tittle-tattle tale of royal ramblings on the bathroom window sill.

I have several books with curled edges, either splashed from bath bubbles or dropped in the water from shrivelled fingers. But reading in the bath is a luxury that many of us can't afford. I had an old agent - he wasn't old but our historical relationship is - who has a bath rack that he can balance his latest bath time book on. I've just seen that you can buy bamboo bath caddies, so called because they hold things like a bell, book and candle, as well as a special circular recess for a glass of wine so you can sup between chapters and sponging.

Our cottage is very old and our water system is about as old as James the Second, who was on the throne when it was built. So running a bath here takes practice. Turn on the hot water tap, throw in handfuls of Epsom salts, and after you've run into the bedroom to collect your reading glasses and Annie Glenconnor's wilted paperback, remove all garments, swish the hot water back and forth. Then in with a squirt of 'Badedas' and it's on with the cold tap. We do have a mixer tap so it is but one movement. When the water is bearable, slip into the bath and turn off the cold water. The hot water is still trickling. Paddle the bubbles around the bath and apply a face pack. Either a Japanese peel off affair, a delicate blue one from the factory shop, or an expensive French mud pack that, if not careful, can rip the top layer of the epidermis off with one swipe.

The moment you feel your toes have melted turn the cold tap back on and count for six seconds. If you have been too long applying the face mask count to ten. Swish that water around until the mirror from the rack, which you have just been gurning into, is steamed up. Then sit and wait. After about two minutes add more hot water, 6-10 seconds, than turn off the cold tap until the bath water reaches the level of the overflow. ( I don't know what I'll do when the the old git dies, he supplies me with words my ancient brain forgets like OVERFLOW ) Anyway you're now sitting in a deep, perfectly controlled bath. The foam just high enough to cover your intimates, were a cameraman to come in and take shots of you wallowing. Now turn off the hot water, but I urge you to sit still until you are sure the water comes just underneath the overflow, then take the pink timer from the window sill. It's already set to 20mins so no need to fiddle. The readout will be opaque, but if you hold it up sideways you'll be able to make out the digits. Balance the clock on the side of the bath; should it fall into the foamy deep the charity shop in the village have got replaceable clocks for a fiver. This pink one is my fifth. Hold onto the bath rails and slip gently into the nearly too hot to handle water. Slide down under the bubbles, making sure not to splash your face which is drying underneath the mask. Now just lie there and count the drips from the tap. After 81 the water will let out a 5 second stream, and all will be quiet. Now reach up with your left hand and using your fingers try and locate the reading glasses without rolling over, knocking Annie into the water or having to sit up. The specs too will be opaque. But if you slip them on and wait patiently for a few seconds the mist will disappear and all will be visible. If the mist doesn't clear sit up - I know it's a fucking pain - and using the dry flannel which is hanging over the sink, clean the smeared lenses. Hold the rails and slide back into the deliciously temperate water covering your modesty with the big blue flannel Dame Syvle sent you for Christmas. Now, carefully reach out for Lady Annie who is balanced precariously on the window sill - I did say carefully did I not, because one false move and Lady Glenconnor will be lying face up looking at the hanging penis which Giles sent from Bali. It's a big, fat wooden fertility symbol, not that me or him are interested, but if we have youngsters coming to stay, and if they are wanting a family, we tell 'em to give the wooden flying todger a little tap, it will flap it's wings and if all goes well they will soon be with child.

When the alarm goes off, carefully place the dripping autobiography back on the window ledge and using another flannel wash off the face mask. Should you require a little extra scrub there's some organic face wash in the soap dish. Now, let the water out - unless you want another twenty minuets till the water goes cold - hold the rails and pull yourself upright. Using those arm muscles, making sure you don't slip, stand upright. Then, step out of the bath and give it a once over with the shower head.

One towel for the hair.

One towel for the body.

One towel to wrap around the shoulders. Then a dash into the bedroom to collect clean clothes.

If you get your timing right you will be relaxed and sweet smelling, ready either for the day or the night. But if, like me today, you get out of bed too late and the day has gone faster than a cheeter on the Serengeti Plain, you'll have eaten supper, watched the box, read yesterday's papers and fallen into bed, just a little bit grubby. Or you could take a shower which uses less water than a full bath. Apparently a standard shower head flows at a rate of 2.5 gallons per minute so a ten minute shower only uses 25 gallons of water whilst a full bath can use up to 70 gallons.

I now feel more guilty than Judas. I need a long, hot soak to calm down.

Permalink | Comments (1)

Having a ruck

Posted by Jeni in | 28 January 2021

If a person from la droite critiques a person a partir de la gauche the criticism tends to take the form of accusations of anger, envy, jealousy, bitterness and lily livered vegetarianism.

If a person a partir de la gauche critiques a person from la droite the critism tends to be in the form of accusations of greed, hypocrisy, indifference, heartlessness, and snotty nosed hunting.

The last four years, headed up by the fat controller, twisted the Rubik cube of Government, spinning the truth. We witnessed the end of reasoned debate and joyful discussion. It was goodbye to the Rabbinical concept of argument and examination all tossed out of the Capitol's window along with Caesar Chavez and MLKing's busts.

According to the tradition of my forefathers and mothers ( especially the mothers) arguments were deemed good and healthy. A functioning society is thus fuelled by debate, according to centuries of tradition. Shying away from an argument is unhealthy and decidedly unproductive, as we witnessed when the orange cock womble silenced any dissenting voice.

How do we move forward if we don't look at every issue from every angle, by looking inside and outside, over and under the rug, how can we expect to find the truth?

I've long been an advocate of U-turns. When a leader admits to being wrong we can all breathe a sigh of relief, common sense has pushed open the door of decision making and we witness humanity. I never understand why banner headlines criticise U-turns. Sometimes arriving at conclusions takes time. Only the bold of heart can admit to their mistakes.

I was taught that diversity of opinion is a strength, discussing the pros and cons of bell bottoms till three in the morning with a warm bottle of Liebfraumilch and cocktail sticks flaunting cheese and pineapple chunks was the highlight of my youth. I was also reminded that however much I thought my opponent was a total tosser I still had to respect their point of view and remain civil. I know it's hard but if we don't observe these kinds of rules we end up with painted wankers, wearing horned and furry head dresses storming the halls of democracy.

When I was on LBC I was forever asking the callers to talk to me - talking, listening, sharing opinions, and everybody who contributed was better off after they had shed their load. Talking is by far the best way of achieving anything, isn't it? Whether Winnie said it or not, as the Luftwaffer was bombing the shit out of Coventry, and us Dresden, didn't the man sucking on a large Corona say , "Jaw jaw is better than war war"?

The last four years has taken it's toll and removed our ability to sit round the camp fire, with a peace pipe, negotiating the rights and wrongs of just about anything. The arsehole that called himself a man of the people gave voice to the kind of native that Nigel Effluage represented; ill informed, frightened, xenophobes with about as much care for the community as a scabby hyena.

Sometimes the angry are the ones that get things done; isn't it acknowledged that anger is a catalyst for change? Sitting smugly by, watching injustice after injustice is the privilege of the privileged. If you ain't got much and it dont look like your gonna get anything anytime soon then it's your right as a human being on this withering planet of ours to shout and throw stones at glass houses even if they have been redesigned by Kevin McCloud.

Commentators and influencers commentate and influence. In an era of fake news commentators and influencers should be allowed to do their job. As we count the cost of lock down with school closures, pubs shutting, theatre, ice rinks, bowling alleys and bingo halls closing their doors, as we watch children in some schools getting 6 hours of virtual education whilst children in other schools picking up the scraps of a 2 hour session from an exhausted teacher who hasn't been tested or traced we must honestly take stock.

As long as thems that have are poles apart from thems that have not there will be angry voices of disapproval. Doesn't mean you can't tell a dirty joke or have a laugh, but it does mean that thems that have not have to keep an eye on thems that have otherwise we end up, like in the last four years, with those who dont give a fuck making rules for those who do.

So to all you carnivores I am now about to make mung bean and red lentil stew with white rice and almonds, a green salad with a tahini dressing, all topped off with a healthy slice of leftwing propaganda and a squeeze of bitter lemon.

Bon Appetite.

Permalink | Comments (0)


Posted by Jeni in | 25 January 2021

Today I wore my leather biker's coat bought from the charity shop. It cost a tenner and reveals the state of my weight - if I'm doing okay the zipper goes up and I can breathe, if I'm 'overladen' the zipper sticks and it looks like I've been poured into a wet-look latex bondage suit.

The word coat stems from Old French and then Latin 'Cottus', which originates from the Proto-Indo-European word for woollen clothes. But according to my sources 'An early use of coat in English is coat of mail 'Chainmail', a tunic-like garment of metal rings, usually knee-or-mid-calf-length.' My mother knitted me a coat, not of metal rings but cream coloured 4ply Shetland yarn. It had a shell pattern and an unreliable collar. I've a photograph of me on the top of the Church Tower in St. Albans looking ever so slightly Bohemian. But I've mislaid my mother's precious knitted coat. It'll be wrapped up somewhere in the bottom of the airing cupboard with a pair of feather angel wings and my great, great Grandmother's Victorian beaded cape.

Given that I'm a gal who travels light I find coats cumbersome and unwieldy, as long as there's a couple of pockets for my bus pass, credit card and lipstick I prefer my puffer jacket which the dawter's ex knocked off 6 years ago. I have a girl friend who buys a new winter coat every year. I'm not sure what her Covid wardrobe looks like but before last winter a trip to the shops to buy a new ensemble happened in the January sales, this year she's probably wearing 2019's cast offs.

My Great Aunty Becky would travel from the East End to our house, taking the train to Elstree and Boreham Wood then catch the 358 bus from Shenley Road which stopped outside our house by the big oak tree which was later sawn down so that passengers could alight more safely. My mother and I held each other, and wept, as the majestic beast fell to the ground. So what's new?

We would greet my aunt who was laden with a string bag filled with gifts; sugared almonds from Marks and Spencers and Danish pastries from Grodzinski's Bakery in Whitechapel. She had the elegance of an Eastern European mannequin, coiffed and powdered. She would step down from the bus, her Stilettos as shiny as the day she bought them, her silk head scarf in tact and her beaver lamb fur coat open to reveal the brown satin lining. That coat lives in my attic. It's heavy and has the smell of Yardley's vintage perfume on the collar. It hangs alongside a faux fur given to me by a Spaniard who took pity on my penury in the 90's and a long phoney, white fur hooded number that made me look like Jay-LO when we filmed in the snow in Times Square, back in the day.

I have a framed picture of me standing on the side of a road in the middle of a Swedish forest. I'd just fallen in love with the old git and the van we were touring in had just broken down. I'm wearing a brown furry coat over blue jeans and grinning cos I'd just fallen love with the old git remember, and I'm giving a mittened thumbs up to the camera, the Swedish Conifers my backdrop. My Great Aunt would have tutted at my choice of wardrobe, pairing a red plaid scarf with such a coat; faux fur from second hand shops, however, was all the rage in the early Seventies.

But, back now to 'Harrods', ten years earlier. 1960. Knightsbridge. My father, swaggering past the entitled shop girls, his back pocket bulging with pound notes, leading his wife and child through Persian carpeted departments. His mission to buy me a school uniform for my new swanky girls school.

The inventory included:

Indoor and outdoor shoes.

Brown knickers with a pocket.

A black regulation swimming costume.

A blue and white checked summer dress.

A brown blazer.

A brown gym slip, and a blue blouse.

A brown Mackintosh suitable for a Parisian prostitute.

Thick regulation tights.

A brown beret.

And an 'A' line brown tweed coat, all thick and tweedy.

My father peeled off the money, one sheet at time, by the time he had reached the last note it was clear there weren't enough funds for the 'A' line tweedy number. We left the store carrying the famous green bags filled with my future.

Of course I was a rebel, I didn't mean to be, but I was, and am still ridiculously anti establishment. Independent girls' schools had a code.

Beret's were to be worn at all times, even at the bus stop.

I took mine off.

Ban-the-Bomb badges were to be removed from lapels.

I kept mine on.

No eating outside the school.

I binged on Mars Bars.

In June the whole school of 169 girls, lined up in the gravelled court yard then boarded the hired coach. I mounted the steps only to be barred by the headmistress who told me I would not be joining the rest of the girls since I did not have the required daywear. As punishment I would be left alone. The coach careened off. What was a young loner to do. I walked round the grounds, stepped into a mound of dog shit then promptly walked into the school-house leaving canine fecal matter all over the beeswaxed floor. I was, of course, expelled. That tweedy 'A' line coat had cost me the centre court. Years later I was filming at 'SW19' and stuck two fingers up at the entire public school system.

I have coats of many colours hanging in the attic: a navy blue leather coat from the 60's that hung on my father's stall in Walthamstow market; her sister coat, a lurid green suede affair on the same hanger; a purple corduroy, pink-silk lined creation from Edinburgh which I had nagged the 'oosbind to buy me for my birthday - sadly, I look like a Tory Councillor from Fife; a thin leather coat with real horn buttons that my father tea-leaved for my mother back in 1946 and a yellow leather Yves St Laurent coat purchased from the 'Red Cross' Charity shop on the Kings Road. It cost more than the ground rent for half of Chelsea.

Given my fractured childhood nobody could ever have anticipated my rise to 'Z' list celebrity. But after years of blood curdling ladder climbing I arrived at the Beeb. My last film for them was travelling to Iceland to meet a mystic who was single handedly keeping Elvin Homes in tact by rerouting roads so that the elves could live happily ever after. I was offered a thick Arctic anorak so I could perform in minus 2 degrees. I chose a blue and yellow one which I wore with a black fur hat and pink snow gloves. We travelled around Iceland avoiding the Elvin hillocks and was gifted the keys to Hafnarfjordur, a fishing village. Photos of my celebrity were taken and hung on the walls leading down to Hafnarfjordur's fish restaurant. Years later, and I do mean years, my 'son-in-law' was taking a sabbatical from our eldest daughter. He went to live in Iceland and was taken to dinner in a little fishing village. On his way down to take his table his attention was drawn to the photographs gracing the walls.

'That's my fucking' mother-in-law' he said forlornly as he retched over his Hakar, the stinky fermented shark so loved by the Icelanders.

That anorak is now on the hat stand in the cellar. I'm persona non grata at the moment - well who wants a 72 year old reporting on Covid, commentating on Boorish, or dispatching information on the decline of the fishing industry thanks to Brexit bungling? Apart from a quick nip to the supermarket once a week I don't need a coat anymore. A fleece and a Gilet or a Kagul or a Pacamac will suffice. The Corona virus has not only meddled with my mental health its' prescribed my outdoor wardrobe.

But I leave you with the wonderful words of Sharon Owens.

Dangerous Coats.

Someone clever once said

Women were not allowed pockets

In case they carried leaflets

To spread sedition

Which means unrest

To you & me

A grandiose word

For commonsense




So ladies, start sewing

Dangerous coats

Made of pockets & sedition

Permalink | Comments (0)

Copyright 2007, Jeni Barnett. Website produced by Chopstix.