November the 21st.

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 21 November 2020

For ten days I have watched the leaves carpet the lawn. Listened to the rain on the sky light and the trials and tribulations of a host of friends.

I've started making lists for Christmas and have taken deliveries of fake meat, fake bacon seasoning and fake onion powder.

I have dusted the mantle piece, the piano and all the pictures in my bedroom.

I have polished the shelf holding the Chinese Baoding balls and two African sculptors.

I have vacuumed the hall, the stairs and put chick peas into my old sweetie jars.

I have tidied the pantry so that I can locate white rice, brown rice or quinoa easily.

I have watched television, listened to Chet Baker, blitzed the bathroom, joined a yoga teacher on FaceTime as she does downward dog in the jungles of Costa Rica. Driven to my acupuncturist who stabbed me in the belly and left a needle in my head.

I have walked round the red running track and shopped in my organic farm shop. I have made sag aloo, chana Dahl, tomato curry with peas and coconut rice. I have made soup with snow fungi, peas, mushrooms, yellow and orange peppers, sweet corn and garlic. It's sitting on the stove all golden and chunky waiting to be decanted into zip-lock bags for the freezer.

I haver marvelled at Cummings and his cardboard box, Trump with his grey hair. I have choked on Priti Patel's verdict and screamed at the bustards who are ripping up the woodland to make a train track for 14 rich people who want to go from here to there at the expense of houses, villages, ancient copses and Stonehenge.

I sleep when I can, meditate at all times, argue with the old git and open the door for visitors who can't come in.

I watch our local green spaces being cluttered with cheap new builds that nobody who needs a house can afford.

We dip into our diminishing savings to pay for broken cars, broken teeth and broken dreams.

I put money in the drawer for the farm shop over the road who only take cash and for the beggars who come to the car window whilst I'm waiting at traffic lights. A quid here, a quid there.

I'm bundling up old clothes, and taking them to the charity shop, which is closed, leaving my teeshirts and jumpers in the doorway.

I am fighting with lethargy, apathy and sack loads of thoughts that shouldn't be given the time of day.

So I allow myself hate time;

Watching the Prime Sinister talking to me from his isolated room and realising that he looks like an anaemic Shrek. Tick

Watching the fat fuck from Washington dribbling through his final days. Tick

Watching Eamon and Ruth being ousted without a hint of compassion. Tick

Watching Brexit being non negotiated. Tick

Watching The NHS being tampered with before our very eys. Tick

Watching our teachers, coppers, fire-fighters, bin men, and care workers being pissed on from a great height. Tick.

And the list goes on.

The peaceful quiet of our cottage can sometimes swaddle me in anxiety.

And so tonight we will sit in front of a blazing fire, and I shall watch the flames as another day disappears into the ether and a pile of celebrities dance before me as entertainment.

May your Sunday be filled with anticipated joy and may all who love you, and you them, be able to do fifteen star jumps just because you can.

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What no Dick.....

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 11 November 2020

The dawter told me to post pictures cos people dont open links, but all you have to do is copy and paste this link into your search engine - https://youtu.be/6fQYhaHngWg - and there I am in my early twenties doing what I do best, shouting.

It's a film about pantomime, made in the 70's from the BBC. There is no need for you to watch it, but Sybil the Soothsayer from Hollywierd, sent it to me, how he found it is a wonder. There's Mr. Jimmy Jewel, Mr. Bob Hoskins, Mr. David Rapperport and Mr. Campbell, all sadly resting in the green room in the sky, whilst the very lovely Zoe Wannamaker and me were the female contingent. There are others who joined in - some discredited and some unknown to me - but all of us 50 years younger.

I sat for an hour, in my dressing gown, gobsmacked that nearly half a century later I was watching my younger self on a lap top in my kitchen. Some memories, like last night's legumes, linger. I remembered Zoe and I standing in the wings being taught comic timing by the legendary Jimmy Jewel. He pushed us on after a count of three. Not three and a half, not four or two, but precisely three. We got the laugh.

Chris Langham, 'Harlequin', would travel to the theatre, on the Northern Line, with David Rapperport stuffed in his rucksack. The diminutive actor would shout from inside the bag confusing the passengers .

I got the gig after living in Newcastle where I was practising yoga, killing rats, making shepherd's pie, and waiting for my two writing partners to complete their award winning scripts. In the end the life of a pest controlling yogini took its toll and I travelled back home. My mother pushed me to call Ken Campbell who had been the very first director I'd worked with at Watford Palace Theatre. I resisted for a bit then picked up the receiver on the mustard coloured telephone under the stairs and twiddling with the ugly wire I waited for Campbell to answer the phone. When he picked up I feigned cool calmness.

"How do you fancy making a couple of films and touring Israel and Germany?" he asked.

"Yeah." I said my nonchalance belying my terror.

And so we made 'The History of Sadlers Wells' and the 'Story of pantomime.'

And for the next few months I hammered nails up my nose on the canals in Frankfurt, put ferrets down Sylvester McCoys trousers in Edinburgh. Cooked food in a wigwam at the Festival in a production of 'Stonehenge Kit the ancient brit in the end of the Woad." and locked myself in my digs away from inebriated actors who dipped their dangly bits in 'Dettol' to kill the germs from too many drunken assignations. So Trump wasn't the first to suggest using disinfectant.

We toured around Europe and when the money ran out we did moonlight flits from 2 star hotels. Standing on stage and calling on the public to give us a bed, or their keys, or both, saved our bacon. I didn't understand the ramifications of a bunch of keys being thrown at me from a male member of the audience, but I was young, and although I didn't know it at the time, good looking, or was it needy? But those geezers afforded me respite from a gang of mad men and offered me extraordinary accommodation from Amsterdam to Munich.

Watching myself listening and watching myself watching I cannot recall the costumes or makeup. Watching myself singing and acting I cannot recall the scenes. I know it happened because it's on celluloid and I've seen it with my own eyes, but the ripping yarn of my life has meant that some memories have been deleted to the trash can of my mind to make room for new experiences, after all you can't remember everything can you?

Ken Campbell set me off on a course of maverick adventures. Something our young cannot do at the moment. I took risks and had opportunity after opportunity, something our youths are missing out on.

I travelled and got paid for it; I worked with experienced professionals who taught me, trained me, and helped me in the art of theatrical communication, something that only a rare few are able to enjoy.

Looking back seems to be the order of our times, since the present is so chaotic and the future so uncertain. Trump's refusal to accept defeat is concomitant with his brazen game-show-persona. His type of cheap theatricality should be abhorred. And whilst I acknowledge that life is a game isn't the playing of it, fairly and bravely, the lesson for the next generation.

Watching my juvenile self, her whole life ahead of her, I would have urged her to be more courageous. I would have insisted she said, more often, to creeps, "No," but 'Yes' to her inner yearnings. If I had known then that the distance between then and now is like the blinking of an eye I would have encouraged her to jump more, knowing that the net would always appear. This year only a few pantomimes are being staged; how could we have known back then that the map of Britain, with all its fabulous theatres, would be redrawn. That a government, with it's fingers up it's arse, could have allowed actors, musicians, writers, stage designers, costume makers, a whole network of creatives, languish. It's hard to believe they dont care, but as so many of us are suffering from a lack of physical contact, from isolation, from something as simple as a trip to their local Repertory Theatre to watch a sparkly Pantomime, you you could be forgiven for thinking that our elected members, and I do mean flaccid members, are thoughtless, heartless, selfish individuals who know nothing of making our society healthy.

They have to be held to account because I think they are an assembly of dunces.

'Oh, no their not.'

'Oh yes they fucking are.'

Look behind you people.

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Soup Glorious Soup

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 6 November 2020

Whether it's Sop or Suppa, Soupe or Soup, we all have our own version of a liquid hug.

Eight thousand years ago the Ancient Romans slopped onion soup into their red brick slip ware, old Germans ladled their leek and karoffel suppa into gold rimmed porcelain, whilst the Vietnamese feasted on Pho. Chinese archaeologists unearthed a 2,400-year-old bronze cooking vessel filled with liquid and bones in Xian. 8,000 terracotta warriors had been guarding the slop since the Xia's built the Great Wall.

Why there's even a caff in Wattana Panich in Bangkok that has been simmering noodle soup for 45 years. Nattapong Kaweeantawong decants the broth every night, washes out his wok, pours the soup back into the clean pan and then, for nearly half a century, a relative picks up a wooden spoon and starts stirring - wells that's what relatives do.

However, my point is that soup has always been and still is everywhere. From Chowder to Tom Yum from Minestrone to Bouillabaisse, from Gazpacho to Borsht, Primordial or not we are surrounded by soup and as we live through the American election we find ourselves swimming around in yet another gloopy gumbo.

My mate Madeleine par boils a Bisque when the evenings turn brisk, the old git loves nothing better than a pot of Pea and Ham when autumn knocks. The dawter's go-to-potage is carrot and coriander, whilst Dame Sylve from Chatham makes her very own tomato soup with ripe pickings from her husbands allotment.

My darling friend on Hermosa Beach doesn't like soup; it makes him think of poverty and sets him off down the road of nostalgic melancholy. My friend in Greenwich thinks its more trouble than it's worth, but I wager that soup is as important as a 15 tog deluxe, washable, wool duvet from Iceland filled with small, soft feathers from the breast of the female eider.

Soup has accompanied me through the journey of my little old life. Starting with Jewish Penicillin. When a chicken is over a year she becomes a hen. Big hens, in my youth, were our staple diet if the housekeeper could afford it. I've alway wondered why it wasn't called Hen soup - the Caribbeans have Cock soup so why not Hen? But I digress. My mother's chicken soup was the best in Stepney although, to be fair, every Jewish woman from Bathsheba in the bath to Maureen Lipman on the cobbles claims her mother's soup is the best.

In my 20's I made packet soup Fu Yung; the sachet ripped open, poured into a pot of boiling water, a beaten egg whisked into it and voila, a fitting meal for a starving drama student.

In my 30's I discovered just how easy soup was to make. I was visiting a friend in Devon. Her husband was acting with mine in the West End so I went down for some rest and recuperation. She showed me how to sweat an onion in olive oil for 6 minutes, then tip in whatever veg was available, pour over some water with a sprinkling of stock and 40 minutes later, there it was, a pan of bubbling goodness. She had her first child - on the same day I had my dawter - 33 years ago, and I still think of her every time I have sweaty alliums.

In my 40's I started to experiment with the help of Crank's cookbook. A gift from the 'oosbind when Cranks was still the 'in place' in Soho. The soup recipes are earthy and unctuous whilst the books tweedy jacket is the colour of their famous Parsnip and Lentil chunkfest.

In my 50's I experimented with filling my soups with noodles, or the famous Kreplach - a dumpling filled with meat or mashed potatoes - or the famous Kneidlach, round balls of matzo meal dropped into the soup like bombs of bliss. My mothers Kneidlach were never light, they were never perfectly spherical, they were stodgy and the next best thing to her Yorkshire pudding which was never light and could have been used as the daub to my fathers wattle. They may have been heavy but they were as comforting as a maternal hygga.

In my 60's I was faced with the menopausal onslaught of insomnia. Nobody has ever come up with a remedy for my night time ramblings but I discovered one balm that fills me with warmth and the onset of slumber. It is the very splendid Tomato soup from Herr Heinz, heated on the stove in a little pan and poured into a mug taken with or without bread and butter. I am the veritable poster girl for woolly socks, knees up to my chin, sitting in front of a roaring fire, hands round the mug, sipping on the creamy creamy red liquid. I would like to say that it works every time - but does it fuck. I've tried it with CBD oil, melatonin and a sprinkling of nutmeg, all to no avail. I blame Trump.

Aren't we the sum total of all our experiences? If I fast forward my life I can barely believe some of those experiences like the time 'Good Food Live' paid for me to live in a fancy flat in London. I was close enough to walk to the studio as I learnt about sweets, sauces, seafood and soups. After a days filming I would sit with Lozzie, in my flat on the river in Battersea. She was a dazzling therapist who majored in regression. After a journey into a past life - do not judge - we would clear the table, set up some bowls, boil a packet of frozen peas, blitz them with a little mint and cream and slurp that pea soup as we mulled over my past lives as a botanist, French peasant or Mata Hari.

But now, inevitably as I turn into my mother, I have returned to the families good old chicken soup. My mother would arrive home with a big bird, sit it on her knee - it was dead of course - pluck it clean then turn on the gas burner. Holding the bird over the blue flame she would turn it round and round until the smell of burning feathers filled the kitchen. That huge hen would then be placed in a massive schissel - saucepan - and covered with clean water. When the water came to the boil she would sieve off the scum.

This, my mother called, 'SHAHHING'. "The shit always rises to the surface," she said. "Be careful to shah away all the foamy mess, don't rush. Add clean, clear water until the scum comes to the surface and then shah again." Over the pot of boiling water she would stand, gently shahhing away the impurities, patiently, until there was not a speck of feather or fat. She would drop in a huge onion, a fat carrot, two sticks of celery, a big squashy tomato, a bunch of parsley and a large pinch of salt before bringing it to the boil again. Finally she would throw in a dash of white pepper, making her sneeze and the kitchen smell like the warehouses in Wapping. The huge pot was put on the back burner on the smallest of lights for a minimum of four hours, the condensation on the kitchen window heralding in the first broth of the season.

Now soup, whether it's squash, fennel or chicken is central to our locked down lives. With the candles lit the conversation turns to the events of the day. Inevitably, the orange cock-womble comes up in conversation. Time to teach the young ones that they too have to be vigilant to shah way the scum. Like chicken soup, democracy requires patience and a watchful eye. Slowly but surely, shah away the impurities. Shah away the foamy filth. Clearing the golden liquid so that it is fat and feather free. If you're lucky the old hen may have an egg hidden inside her. No shell but a perfectly formed ball of deliciousness and a symbol of fertility, resurrection, and eternal life. Hidden inside the soup are healing properties and the wisdom of the ancestors.

I can hear my mother now.

"When the scum has been shahhed off you will have a pure, clear soup with no impurities."

As Issabel Allende said;

'Real soup is to the body what peace is to the soul'.

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Condolences.

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 26 October 2020

In 1988 I did a screen test for London Weekend Televison - LWT.

A trip to Southbank, a piece to camera, an interview and then a wait for the outcome.

I got a phone call from Maeve, the producer, saying they loved what I'd done BUT...

"I looked like a pile of shit." I offered.

"Yes." said Maeve. 'You looked like a pile of shit, go and get your hair done."

So I borrowed 15 quid from Jonfan next door and drove to Tunbridge Wells, Lionel washed, trimmed and gave me a successful blow job.

I took the train to Waterloo, walked through the back streets and did my second screen test. My newly coiffed barnet won me the contract and so began four and a half years of extraordinary experiences.

I learnt how to interview.

I learnt how to listen.

I learnt how to garden.

I learnt how to spot the Essex element.

I learnt how to make four minute films.

I learnt how to hold my own.

I learnt how cut throat telly was.

And I learnt how to anchor a show with Frank Bough.

I learnt what a consummate professional Mr. Bough was.

I was the enfant terrible he was the avuncular mentor

I still got into trouble though. Like the time I was confronted with the boss who insisted I attend a camera rehearsal on January 2nd. A blind marmoset could have done the job just as well. I did, however, turn up with teeth gritted. When the boss in question asked me, in the lift on the way to the 18th floor, whether I was questioning his authority, I replied in my best Aldgate East.

"Fucking right I am."

I visited the 18th floor many times. The 18th floor was equivalent to the headmasters office. It was where I got detentions regularly.

Frank knew nothing of my reputation for anarchic foreplay and I knew nothing of his personal peccadilloes.

The first time I met Mr. Bough he asked me, as we sat together for our '6.0'clock Live' Friday Night Show, what my favourite sport was.

If I had said water sports we may have got on like a house on fire, instead I froze. I wasn't into that kind of gentlemanly activity although I liked watching footie and tennis. I knew as much about cricket and rugby as somebody from Sentinel, which is the most isolated tribe in the world. The Sentinelese attack anybody who comes from the outside, they keep themselves to themselves, which is pretty much what I did for my stint at LWT.

I started well, as the new face of the station, all red lippy and enthusiasm, a series of 'Good Life Guides', a gardening show, a Friday evening debacle called 'Friday Now' and then I got bored. Was reprimanded endlessly for being a loose cannon on a live programme. Hauled up onto the 18th floor to be told that I couldn't be trusted. TRUE. That I didn't appear to give a shit. TRUE. That the men who watched me gardening didn't fancy me. I told them that the men who didn't fancy me couldn't get it up and told them all, including the erectile dysfunctioning audience, to fuck themselves. On the five minute walk to Waterloo East I Sacked my agent and took the 15.33 back to TWells. By the time I got home I was reinstated as the braless-dungaree wearing presenter on 'The Gardening Roadshow' with Roddy Llewellyn and Daphne Foulsham.

Ah! Thems were the days trolling round in an ancient van digging up gardens, planting the ashes of dead relatives in raised beds, and using as many lavatories as we could. Daphne was the wife of a boat owner she taught us the protocol of the nautical toilette.

"When sailing" she would say "Given the possibility of being stranded the WC is a thing of beauty, and must be respected at all times, so remember - 'Always when you can never when you must'."

Another lesson learnt, to this day I never miss the opportunity to take a pee where 'ere I can, whether it's 'The Ritz' or Charing Cross Station.

Thirty years ago I didn't know how to defend myself diplomatically I came out fighting like an East End thug, which is exactly what I was. Frank, as I recall, was always dry mouthed, something to do with his nasal habits. He had the patina of an Oxbridge education and a great line in cardigans. He was always very generous with me. I was his junior in every way, had I been a proper journalist I would have known about his forays into the subterranean world of whip-craft. As it was/is I'm a complete novice when it comes to reading between the lines, especially when they are blurred. I loved sitting next to him every Friday night, but then somebody in the gallery accused me of nearly saying the 'F' word. I was about to say 'farting' around, I wasn't believed and I was removed from my comfy Friday night seat and sent out on the road instead to interview everybody from Norman Wisdom to Truffling pigs in Epping Forest.

In my memory Frank was never rude or patronising, if anything he was complimentary and utterly supportive.

Frank has just died, aged 87. The great thing about innocence is that it leaves you with the capacity to love unconditionally which I was able to do with dear Mr. Bough. Whatever he did in his private life was his own affair.

Danny Baker poster this little clip of me, him and Frank which I am happily sharing with you.

https://tvark.org/?page=media&mediaid=91918

I wish Frank peace and tranquility wherever he finds himself in his after life.

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Rippety Offedy

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 21 October 2020

I went to the dentist.

I had chipped my left front tooth and wanted it filed down so it was the same size as the right front tooth.

I went to the dentist and sat in the empty souless waiting room. No magazines just a big screen slide-showing adverts flogging teeth whitener, cosmetic dentistry and expensive implants.

The nurse came and collected me. We all had our masks on. I sat down and removed my mask. I revealed my incisor whose sharp edge, to help me bite into food, was no longer chisel like, more cracked, like an old bone china teacup that had been left in a chest somewhere in Surbiton. Call it vanity, but I wanted my smile to be radiant not flawed.

The dentist - new to me - sat behind me and looked at my chipped front tooth.

"How did you do it?" he enquired.

"On a date pip."

He asked the nurse to get him the required bonding instruments and materials.

"Hold on" I said "I don't want it bonded I want it filed."

The dentist asked the nurse to give me a hand mirror. Like sleeping beauty I stared at my face in the little round glass. Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the most gullible of them all?

The dentist then told me that he couldn't vouch for other dentists but given his prolific experience bonding was the answer. I told him that bonding doesn't last.

"Nothing lasts." he said "Motor cars.... anything mechanical."

"I don't want it bonded" I said with a little broken smile.

I asked him how much filing the tooth down would cost. He warned me that if he filed it it wouldn't look anatomically correct and that the tooth next to it was smaller than it should be compared to a filed down version of my left front tooth. He told me that if he were to file it down he would be worried about my nerves and hurting me. I didn't tell him that I never have injections when I have any kind of dentistry and that he didn't realise he was dealing with 'Marathon Woman' and that Dustin Hoffman isn't the only actor that is able to withstand pain whether Sir Laurence Olivier or even Michael Gove are drilling into their heads. I didn't tell him anything cos my mouth was open. Gave him back the hand mirror and said firmly, not aggressively not even boldly just affirmatively that I would prefer to have my left front tooth filed to look like my right front tooth and that he had frightened the fuck out of me. I apologised to the nurse for swearing.

Then I asked how much was it to have it filed down.

"Twenty five maybe thirty pounds." he said.

"And how much to have it bonded?"

"One hundred pounds." he said without a hint shame.

I gulped, my mouth was now shut.

"Sorry I can't afford that," said I. "It's not working is it?" and got up out of the chair and left.

Walked to my car, in the pouring rain, and drove off.

May mobile brrringed. It was the dental surgery.

"I'm sorry you're probably driving" said the dental receptionist with the sunniest of inflections that wouldn't go amiss in an Australian soap opera. " But it will cost twenty five pounds for the...." I didn't let her finish.

"I'm sorry." said I in a clipped voice with an inflection that would't go amiss in an episode of EastEnders, "But I'm not paying." I was matter of fact, not aggressive, not even bold, just wearily direct. "I'm sorry but it didn't work out so I'm not paying twenty five quid for a mistake."

I drove through the rain. I had been in the dentist chair for less than five minutes.

When I woke this morning - Mercury still in retrograde - I stood at the sink to brush my teeth before going to the dentist, and a huge splat of water landed on my right shoulder. The bathroom roof was/is leaking.

Now I didn't know I was about to be ripped off by the dentist but I did know that we had been ripped off by JOE COSTER, I say his name in capital letters should anybody else think of using the little scum bag.

We paid him loadsamoney to fix our roof. He never completed the job. He told us his mother had died to cover his absence. He told us family members were ill to get out of wiping off the mess he had made on my plants, our path the next door neighbours butlers sink which is full of ferns. He lied about all sorts - the result is that we have a leaking roof that should have been mended by JOE COSTER.

That was rippety offedy number two.

Two downright disgraces in one day. And it's happening all around.

I have no desire to partner Angela Rippon, Gloria Honeyford or Julia Somerville in their consumer affairs programme, but I do have a sense of fairness so when dentists try and stick it on you, or roofers try and take the mickey, somebody has to speak up.

I still have a chipped tooth, and the rain is still leaking in the bathroom, all over my lovely new carpet, which was rippedy offedy number three.

The bloke who laid the bathroom carpet didn't realise that I would notice the raggedy edges round the bath. It looked like a chimpanzee had been let loose with a pair of blunt scissors. I called the shop, was firm, not aggressive, not jokey just straight. They sent us a new carpet and a man with know how who laid it beautifully and gave us the offcuts. I now have a bathroom carpet in the cellar upon which i stand when I do the ironing.

Have standards slipped or am I imagining it? I wonder whether the dentist was telling me the truth or not. Was he just wanting to make a few extra quid or was he right about my anatomically inadequate mouth? Was the roofer genuinely in mourning over his dying mother or was he just a lying pillock who thought he could pull the wool over the eyes of two old fuckers?

I'll never know but as the rain drip drops into a yellow bucket strategically placed near the bidet, and as I carefully manoeuvre the dental floss round my chipped front tooth, I am seriously wondering whether to call Gloria or Angela to get them to investigate the malpractices of people who tamper with the roof of my mouth and the roof of my cottage.

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Cottaging

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 17 October 2020

They call Gaffer tape Duct Tape in the US.

We used it when we had a band. Strong, durable and perfect for covering up cables and sticking together battered instruments. It comes in many colours and if you bite into it it rips into a nice, straight line.

The 45th commander in sheath could use some Duct tape for sticking together his crumbling regime.

Our cottage has been the recipient of an awful lot of gaffer. It has been through many incarnations. Part of Mr. Fenner's Blacksmith business many years ago, the old forge is still to the left of us, and the view to the right. The cellar is from 1690, the cottage burnt down in the 30's, was rebuilt, we added a bit here and there and now it is the very model of a modern major general overhaul. It was called 'Prosperity' cottage for a bit, in the hope that by renaming it it would attract prosperity.

Did it fuck?

We've had two Feng Shui masters come and clear it; hang crystals, display pot plants and place Bagua mirrors in strategic places to fend off the evil eye. We face north/north east which is just about as bad as you can get when building a house. It's called a HUNGRY GHOST, tell me about it if we were a Chinese bank we would have gone bankrupt in the Ming Dynasty. We've had energy clearers and psychics who've got rid of metal angels hanging by the door because they were full of malevolence, and cleared Mr. Fenner from the cellar who was banging on his anvil at all hours.

I am now thinking of renaming it Gaffer Mansions, or Duct Hall. We've lived here for thirty six years next week. And over that time we've had parties and floods, babies and chimney fires. We've had a new kitchen and bathroom, new furniture and new windows. Over thirty six years we have seen the walls shift due to subsidence, the roof leak due to faulty tiles. We've seen light switches crumble and shower heads droop. We've watched the garage deconstruct itself and the graveyard behind the shed fill up with dead cats and dogs.

Living here, as an East Ender, has been an education. Who'd have thought I would learn how to lay a fire, prune a euonymous, cope with total blackouts and live without internet in the garden. Who'd have thought a bint from Aldgate would live two miles from anywhere and learn how to walk and shop carefully so she could carry celery and chick pea tins in a back pack and still walk home. But best of all who would have thought that a girl with Hollywood pretensions would end up living with an old git who is a bodger extraordinaire.

I have long wanted him to create a little DIY book with all his suggestions. A strip of gaffer here - keeping the shower up. A strip of gaffer there - shielding us from the icy blasts coming through the window frame. A strip of gaffer to hold up the cellar ceiling and a roll of gaffer to secure the vacuum cleaner case which holds the pipes and accessories.

Our cottage now has an idiosyncratic life of its own; here's half a dozen to be getting on with.

  1. Count to six to light the front right gas ring.
  2. One bum push to close the fridge.
  3. A hefty thrust to the heavens and a full left lock to close the front door.
  4. A dummy light pully for the bathroom.
  5. A defunct light switch in the bedroom.
  6. A swift drop kick to open my cupboard door in the attic.

Since we've been here, next door have have had three different occupiers, the new ones have extended their kitchen to the size of a Hackney warehouse. The other side has built another house and moved out. The other-other side have rebuilt on the old footprint and installed a hot tub. The lodge has new owners. Up the lane another new comer has just arrived with six dogs and a barrow of artichoke plants. Down the hill have attracted new inmates, across the road have built a house opposite their old one and sold their old one to a family with three children. A dentist, a doctor an artist and a family of South Africans have all moved into three other properties, the pub has different landlords and the farm down the back road now sells organic veg and dead pig. All since we moved here in 1984.

My friends in Devon have moved seven times since we've been here. My friends in Monmouth have moved twice. My friend in Goudhurst lived out the back of her car for fourteen of the 36 years that we've been here whilst our friends in Sweden have had heart attacks, three marriages, run a theatre and become grandparents, all whilst we've been gaffering our life together.

Our friends in Chatham have an allotment and perennial flowering shrubs, bee hives and rather healthy retirement pensions, our friends in East Sussex, have moved three times, had their showroom burgled on countless occasions and have renovated a barn that is even bigger than the big kitchen next door which is as big as a big warehouse in Hackney, all while we have taped our lives together with duct tape and blind optimism. Coming from such uncertainty, as I did, the cottage has been the one constant since I was thirty five years of age. I've never seen it as a money maker, quite the opposite, but as the world tumbled around our ears our little cottage has been a sanctuary.

This little cottage has seen breakdowns, births, deaths and marriages, it withstood the storm of '87, the Beast from the East and now provides shelter for the lockdown.

Why only today DIY SOS OLD GIT has unpeeled the gaffer on the raiser rail in the shower installed a new shower head bracket and plugged in a brilliant CORK from our last bottle of bubbly, to complete the look. I sprayed the cork with white paint and the shower looks as good as new.

Now if we count the longevity in my family I should be here until 2045, and him a little less, so by my reckoning the gaffering that is now in place should last until I'm at least 91, and then if all goes to plan the dawter will have some kids who will take after their grandfather and continue the tradition of bodging to keep it all together. That's as long as the climate change deniers are silenced, the deforesters are incarcerated, the selfish short sighted pillocks are removed from office and our little spinning globe hasn't gone the way of the dodo's. If we are still around, along with little ladybirds and horned puffins, if the planet is delivered into safe hands and we haven't snuffed out our own existence I trust that the gaffer factories will still be in tact.

'Men make history.' said Mr. Truman. 'And not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better', wielding a roll of gaffer of course.

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Mr. Frisby. For Sarah

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 13 October 2020

I put on an old blue anorak, pulled up the hood, tugged on thick socks that were a gift from a Portland contributor when we filmed there, squeezed into my heavy walking boots, took my glasses off, snuck them in the front pocket of me anorak, and set off for a walk.

The rain pushing the branches down on the fir trees, the drops splattering on orange Pine needles. The air was clean and clear. Round past the boulder and down to the giant horse chestnut tree. Handfuls of wet, shiny conkers the colour of polished russet lay in the mud. The wet earth claggy and aromatic. The squirrels delight, bisquey acorns, scattered over the newly ploughed field. An aeroplane flew overhead interrupting the silence.

The rain tip tapped on big, yellowy Sycamore leaves and pit patted on my hood. By the time I got to the top field the rain sounded like a BBC sound artist scrunching crisp packets. Five sheep stood among 37 mole hills. They were little rams. I knew they weren't ewes when I realised the dangly bits weren't udders. We eyeballed each other for a while. I have a friend John whose sister had a farm in Derwent, Derbyshire. She named a cow after me. John had the ability to make sheep piss. He only had to stand and look at them and off they went. These rams, big heads and an indifferent stare, just looked at me munching the grass round the mole hills, not a tinkle in sight.

Round onto the stony road, tiptoeing over the sweet chestnuts, their shells split open like bawdy starfish. Then down to the avenue. The beeches and birches soaking up the rain.

I hugged my tree and Terry Frisby came to mind. He does every time I walk down the avenue. Terry wrote 'There's a Girl in my Soup', a massive hit in the 70's. The film starred Goldie Hawn and Peter Sellers and Terry made his name. The son of a railwayman, Terry went to drama school, had an actors voice, was a staunch Social Democrat, and was even more nit-picky than the old git. I met Frizz - as he was called - in 1971. We made two films together about the history of Pantomime and the History of Sadlers Wells and we made each other laugh.

He asked me to move in with him. I was a young actress just starting out so the offer of a room in a house on Fulham Palace Road was irresistible. He never took rent. He wanted me to stand behind him and encourage him to write. I refused. Now I would have obliged knowing how lonely the writing process can be. Mr. Frisby introduced me to bijou bistros in Chelsea, taught me how to order fancy French food, showed me how to make the perfect omelette which he had learnt how to cook in Canne, took me to the cinema and got me my first proper theatre job at The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square. 'Sense of Detachment' was written by John Osborne. Denise Coffey and Rachel Kempson starred in it and I understudied them both. Frisby and I sat in the front row. We were cast as a middle class couple whose job it was to heckle the actors on stage. We were very nearly fired for corpsing, which is the term for those hysterical giggles actors get that are uncontrollable. We corpsed our way through the run.

Terry was a pro-am golfer. His stories were typical of the tales that golfers tell. Like the time he was playing with Roy Castle in a tournament for charity. Terry hit a shot then retired into the bushes to relieve himself. When he returned to the game he had dribbled onto his beige trousers. So embarrassed was he that he concentrated on taking his next putt. It was a magnificent shot, coming to rest on the rim of the hole. The crowd sighed a collective sigh. Roy Castle, was electrified by Frisby's performance and said under his breath;

"Thank God he didn't shit himself."

When I left his house in Fulham, I went on the road, on Terry's advice, and so started my career. We always kept in contact. I watched his hands wrinkle and his voice deepen. Even as we both grew older we still made each other laugh. And then I decided to have a baby. I have a photograph of me pregnant, walking down the avenue, Terry holding my right hand and my mother holding my left. Every time I get to my tree I stop and think about them. Today felt melancholy, surrounded by brown - the colour of the Earth was comforting and nurturing

He died on April 23rd, aged 87. Fitting it was Shakespeares birthday. Covid meant I couldn't go to the funeral, but his son posted a video of the service over his ecological coffin.

I miss him.

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Driving Ambition

Posted by Jeni in | 11 October 2020

When I was in my very early thirties I decided to learn to drive.

My first instructor was a chauvinist pig.

"That's the trouble with women drivers" he would sigh, "If something drops on the floor they cant leave it alone. They have to bend down to pick it up, they stop concentrating and blah blah blah."

The dreadful truth is he was right, well with me certainly.

So I changed to a female instructress.

"Drive as if you have a glass of water on the bonnet." She would say as we drove through Waterloo and she stroked the back of my neck and cooed into my left ear. I had no idea she was gay I just thought she was being supportive.

I took my test and failed, not sure on what but the failure hit me badly. We had a little mustard Mini that was waiting for me to drive through the streets of London Town. We lived in Wapping at the time, all cobbled streets and river views. Sixteen quid a week for a housing association flat that was on an estate where we all knew each other, and our politics were mostly co-ordinated. When we moved out in 1984 we handed the flat back to the organisation not knowing that all the other inmates were buying theirs. They are all worth somewhere in the region of half a million.

After my failed attempt the old git offered to teach me to drive. When we got to a T-Junction he told me to look left and right and left again. I could do that easily.

"LOOK at what's cooming " he would scream. "Don't just go through the fooking motions, for fooks sake ( remember he's from Leeds) LOOK at the fooking road."

So I learned how to properly look at the fooking road. And we argued. Of course we argued. We've always argued. Not a day goes by that we don't argue about something; how to boil an egg, how to mow the lawn, how to put the cutlery back in the drawer. Whether Trump is a twat or an arsehole, should we have a gradual revolution or a proper ruck and just take the fuckers down. We don't trade insults just literary put downs like 'Well, well, well, well. If it isn't fat, stinking billygoat Billy-Boy in poison. How art thou, thy globby bottle of cheap, stinking chip-oil? Come and get one in the garbles, if you have any garbles, you eunuch jelly thou', or "The simplicity of your character makes you exquisitely incomprehensible to me." We do still hold hands in bed - that's if we are in bed together given my insomnia and his wearisome need for sleep, and we sit real close to each other whilst watching the telly. Although living with somebody for forty four years does have its drawbacks. What once were delightful idiosyncrasies are now irritatingly irritating, what once were charming peculiarities are now just peculiar. Still he taught me how to drive with precision and care.

Whilst teaching me I had the temerity to criticise him. Sitting at our little table by the window watching the Thames go by I accused him of being a bad teacher. He accused me of being a bad pupil.

"How long have you thought that I asked?" "Three years." he said.

I was mortified that for the whole of our relationship he had thought so ill of me. He told me I was allowed to be angry so I didn't talk to him for three days, smashed my favourite plate on the floor and went off to Rickmansworth to take my second test.

My instructress decided to send me where there was little traffic, some roundabouts and a squadron of slow drivers. I passed. When I said to the examiner "You're joking" he turned to me sternly and said

"I'm not in the habit of making jokes."

I climbed into the little mustard Mini - all alone - and perspiring profusely drove up Wapping High Street to the 'Town of Ramsgate'. Did a nifty three point turn and drove back to the flat.

I progressed to my very own car it was a Toyota Starlet. Given to me by an artist friend. It was used in a LWT telly programme where our cars were a reflection of who we were. I had to park it outside 'Stringfellows' in Covent Garden . The interviewer told me that the car would die before I did and that it had about as much status as a 'Stannah Stairlift.' In fact so square was my little grey car that the bouncers asked me to remove it from outside club as it wasn't doing their reputation any favours.

I gave it away to a bass playing friend.

When I bought and paid for my very own little red Mazda. I had arrived. For fifteen years I drove around with its fancy stereo and a selection or red lipsticks in the glove department. My brother bought me the Z3 BMW I now drive. She's scratched to buggery, has a multifunctional knob that raises the seat, so I can see out of the window, moves the seat forward, so I can reach the pedals, as well as a lever to make the back straight. I don't drive fast in the rain and have to hold onto the door frame when I fall in. It's lower than is healthy. White van men shout at me, the last one said it was a sporty little number as I slid into it. I have a selection of caps behind the drivers seat. One red one says 'Piss Off', which I wear when the going gets tough.

Since my little mustard Mini I have driven to most of my gigs. Clocking up thousands of miles over years of location work. One of my researchers told me I drove like a man, which I took as compliment, and when I started on my Advanced Driving lessons, the young female instructress told me I was surprisingly confident but could I ever adhere to the speeding limit? I did think that was just a little bit sexist.

I am confident in my driving although the old git would argue with that. He holds the dash board when he's my passenger and I make mistakes because he sits to the left of me judging my manoeuvres.

I share the car now with the dawter who drives the car like the Londoner she has become. She has to raise the seat, move the chair for more leg space and drops the back down so she looks like she's driving a getaway car in Hackney.

Now I play the lottery so I can buy a hybrid two seater for a mere twenty four thousand pounds. What a liberty.

I keep wondering whether I'm going to have to take another test now that I'm over the age of consent, I guarantee I will fail because my knowledge of the Highway Code is limited. When I had to go on a speed awareness course in Brighton I ended up sucking the end of my pencil and doodling at the back of the class. When asked what had I learnt I said that sitting for a whole day rediscovering the need to adhere to speed limits without them offering us biscuits was a disgrace. And that since I drove like a man with the confidence of a rally driver they could at least have given us the choice of 'Bourbons' or 'Custard Creams.'

The old git argued with me and said I should have asked for 'Eccles cakes' or 'Bakewell tarts.' I pulled out my little red cap and pissed off.

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