It’s party time! (Well, in December…)

Brexit be damned! I’ve decided that, deal or no deal, I’m having a kids’ Christmas party for my daughter this year. So I’m stockpiling Prosecco (for the adults – don’t worry, my eight-year-old isn’t a miniature alkie). Before October 31st, I’ll buy some party snacks that won’t be out-of-date by December, and will send out the invitations to my friends with kids next month.

I haven’t had a party since my do for the eight-year-old last Christmas. I used to have fun birthday parties in my twenties, but they kind of fell by the wayside. However, I’m definitely also having a big celebration next year whatever happens with Brexit, as I’m turning 40. In the same month, my friend John is turning 70, so we’re going to throw a party called ‘Ariane and John turn 110!’

I hope it’s as much fun as my 27th birthday party back in 2007, which was a 1980s party in my tiny one-bedroom flat in Camden. Here was the invitation, designed by ultimate polymath Graham Nunn, who would also go on to design the Atheist Bus Campaign:

Ariane's 80s Birthday Party edited.gif

My flat was literally about 300 square feet of space across two rooms and two half-rooms, but I managed to pack in 12 friends. Here are some of them:

MM & M.jpg
Graham with the brilliant quiz scoreboard he’d created,
The-Madonna-and-Michael-Jackson-Tug-of-War!

Charlie & Ariane.jpgMe and my writer friend Charlie, who went on to create the amazing series Black Mirror. Is my dress not the most 1980s thing you’ve ever seen?!

Ariane and BenMe and my then-boyfriend Ben, rocking the 1980s theme with his Duran Duran t-shirt.

Ben C and Ariane.jpgMe and another Ben (I collect them). This Ben is now a comedy producer at BBC Studios.

Catie, Charlie, Zarina.jpg
My friend Catie, who went on to be my flatmate for two years, and then married her comedian boyfriend Richard Herring; Charlie; and my then-flatmate Zarina Liew, who I used to produce cartoons with for the Times Educational Supplement.

Graham and Mark.jpg
My lovely friend Mark White with my best friend Graham Nunn, who would go on to be my husband, and then my ex-husband, and is now my best friend again. He’s paying homage to the 1980s theme with his Mummra-from-Thundercats t-shirt.

Friends at party.jpgEverybody holding up their name badges. Each name badge had three
statements on – two true, one false. You had to guess which the false one was.
The game helped break the ice, as a lot of my friends didn’t know each other.

Ben & Hannah.jpgBen and my friend Hannah Forbes Black, who is now a multimedia artist.

John and Zarina.jpgZarina and her boyfriend John, whose surname escapes me because I am now very old.

Matt, Ben, Mark and me.jpgPlaying another game in teams. Everyone sitting on my bed as there was no space!

I can’t remember who won the prize for Best 80s Costume. On the evidence of these photos, it should really have been me, as I don’t think anyone else pulled out all the stops! You can’t award yourself a prize though. I don’t remember that much about the party, which is possibly a sure sign that it was a good one, but has probably got more to do with it being 12 years on… Anyhow, it’s great to still have the photos, though it also makes me feel ancient.

Back then, I wasn’t remotely pregnant, and now this small creature is eight years old:

Lily raincoat.jpg

The party I’ll have for her in December won’t be cool and fun in the same way as my 27th, but Santa (aka my good friend John Fleming) will turn up with gifts, and my daughter will be excited (although she doesn’t actually believe in Santa any more) and suddenly I’ll have something in my eye. I can’t wait.

santa.JPG

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 40

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 40 days: 8.8lbs)

John: 14st 6lbs (total loss in 40 days: 1.5lbs)

It’s fair to say that John and I aren’t doing too well on this diet. There’s still time to turn it around though!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)

The time Richard Dawkins almost burnt my house down

A few people disapproved of yesterday’s photo and thought it was, I quote, ‘a bit racy’, so here is a photo of me looking like a prim Tory wife. I hope this neutralises any previous suggestiveness and restores the equilibrium of propriety.

dress

Anyhow, you asked for more atheist stories, so here’s an anecdote I told in 2009 at TAM London. It’s a shame this is a blog post with no audio, as I do an uncanny impression of Richard Dawkins!

First, let’s talk about the glass Russell Hobbs toaster I used to own. Lauded by an ex-boyfriend as ‘the most chi-chi toaster I’ve ever seen’, it was truly a thing of beauty.

glass toaster.jpg

The picture honestly doesn’t do it justice. I’m an interior design aficionado and love beautiful homewares, and this was one of my favourite purchases. Sadly though, it was a triumph of form over function, and had a short shelf-life – I had to replace it fairly soon after buying it. I was upset about this, so wrote a pun-filled letter to Russell Hobbs when my original purchase broke, saying ‘I’m afraid it’s now toast’ and asking them if they could ‘Russell up’ a new one for me for free. (They didn’t. Boooo!)

Now, when I was planning the Atheist Bus Campaign in October 2008, a fellow journalist helpfully gave me Richard Dawkins’ personal email address. Being a staunch admirer, having been deconverted by The God Delusion, and knowing that his involvement would help the campaign and motivate others to donate, I wrote him an email asking if he would give me a quote and donate to the campaign himself.

richard-dawkins-bus

I actually wrote him a super-complimentary fangirl-type email first, which he ignored. I then wrote him a very brusque email, which he replied to immediately! Christopher Hitchens would do exactly the same thing to me six months later. Apparently the Four Horsemen don’t appreciate flattery.

Richard asked if he could phone me, so I gave him my landline number (yes, I still had a landline in 2008 – the phone was in my bedroom and was stuck to the wall). He took a while to call though, and I hadn’t had breakfast yet – so in the meantime, I made myself some toast.

toaster-2617854_1920.jpg

The phone rang, and I forgot about the toast and ran to answer it. It was The Dawk, with his distinctive soft and posh voice. He cut straight to the chase (like many academics, he doesn’t do small talk or pleasantries): he was concerned about the inclusion of the word ‘probably’ in the slogan. Could we change it to ‘almost certainly’?

I was halfway through explaining that the ‘probably’ was a reference to Carlsberg’s massive ad campaign (‘Probably the best beer in the world’) when my smoke alarm went off. The toast had burnt, despite the toaster being on the standard setting. ‘So sorry Richard!’ I apologised. ‘My smoke alarm’s beeping. I’ll be right back!’

So I rushed to the kitchen and waved a tea towel frantically at the smoke alarm until it stopped. Then I ran back to the phone. ‘Sorry, where were we?’

Richard grudgingly agreed to accept the slogan, and gave me a quote: ‘This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think – and thinking is anathema to religion.’

I thanked him, and asked if he could make a donation. He paused, and very cleverly asked, ‘What if I agreed to match donations up to a certain threshold?’ (See the donation page below – I bet he’s glad he put that threshold in now!)

ABC JustGiving page.png

I was just saying ‘That would be wonderful’, when the smoke alarm went off again. ‘So sorry,’ I repeated. ‘I’ll just go and stop the alarm.’ Richard sighed, and I sprinted off to wave the tea towel frantically once more, cursing my bad luck. I was on the cusp of convincing the behemoth of all celebrity atheists to support my campaign, but my chances could be scuppered thanks to my stupid toaster!

Richard was remarkably patient throughout all of this. We agreed that he’d match donations up to £5,500 – and that there would therefore be a second phase of the campaign. Thanks to his endorsement, we smashed through the target in the first few hours, and by the end of four days we’d raised £100,000 – not just enough for 30 London buses, but for 800 buses all over the UK, as well as cards in Tube trains. Richard’s involvement had made the UK campaign go stratospheric, and I was very grateful. Every UK newspaper reported on the amazing development.

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Then the Atheist Bus Campaign went global, running in 13 countries around the world. And oh my word, the ding-dongs I had with Richard over the second phase of the UK campaign, which ran in late 2009! But that’s a story for another time. I’ve had my differences with him since, on Twitter, but I will always have a soft spot for him for getting involved with the campaign, and for writing a funny Jeeves and Wooster story for the subsequent charity book I edited, The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. Plus he once left me the most complimentary Guardian comment ever, after getting annoyed with this photo of himself on an article about the book:

Screenshot 2019-07-13 at 18.18.18.png

richard-dawkins-praise

Bet he wouldn’t be too impressed by how much I’ve blobbed out since!

I’ve been invited to see him present an award to Ricky Gervais in September, so maybe we can bury the hatchet then – if he recognises me in my current hefty form, that is. I owe a lot to him, because the Atheist Bus Campaign catapulted me momentarily to a kind of cult semi-stardom.

Before having a nervous breakdown thanks to all the hate mail, and scuppering all my opportunities, I was offered: a contract at the Guardian by then-comment editor Toby Manhire (I stopped writing six months into it as I was so ill); a Guardian video series (I stopped filming four videos in for the same reason); the starring role in a series of Canon commercials (I was too ill to accept); a column in a glossy magazine (ditto); and a two-book publishing deal with HarperCollins (the second book was meant to be called The Atheist’s Guide to Life, but I was too paranoid, anxious and depressed to write it).

So I would probably be wildly successful by now, or at least far closer to it, if mental illness hadn’t ended my career for three-and-a-half years.

On the plus side, at TAM 2009, I got to do my pitch-perfect Richard Dawkins impression on stage in front of thousands of people, which is the best reward, I’m sure you’ll agree.

And of course, I amassed a great collection of anecdotes, including the story in this blog. The funny thing is, whenever I tell it, I get messages from religious people saying ‘The smoke alarm was a sign that you’re going to burn in hell!’

I knew God moved in mysterious ways, but didn’t realise it was through a frosted glass Russell Hobbs toaster.

 

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 6

Me: 12st 9.4 (total loss: – 4.8lbs in six days).

I ate 1,200 calories yesterday, and apparently that’s too many for me to lose weight.

John: 14st 8.25lbs (total: + 0.75lbs)

He went to a swanky all-day lunch yesterday and has paid the price – he weighs more today than when we started this contest! Of the lunch, he says: ‘I don’t even want to imagine the calories.

‘Two tables; probably around 20 dishes or more of rotating stuff plus a strawberry cream dessert thing atop about 5 inches of cake with pink stuff in it.

‘Don’t ask further.’

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month, and I’m only one $5 pledge away from making $100 a month! Could you take me into triple figures? (For $5, you get excerpts of my secret fiction, photos of me I’ve never uploaded before, and my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but even better!)

 

With a little help from my friends

I only have three close friends: Graham (my best friend since 1997, after he placed a contact ad in Select magazine and I answered – and he’s now my ex-husband too); John Bon Jovial (a good friend since he wrote a blog about my comedy music album in 2014); and Annabel (we worked on Big Brother together in 2007-2008).

Sadly I don’t see Annabel much, as she’s an exec producer on The Great British Bakeoff so is super-busy. And I don’t see Graham much either, as he lives in a tiny remote village in Suffolk. But I see John at least once a week, which is great. Here he is being Jesus:

John-loaf

And here he is as a little boy. Awww!

John little

Anyhow, yesterday both Graham and John came round for a late birthday celebration. Graham had crafted me a ‘rubbish present’ – a wooden container for my very pretentious bin! I didn’t have a bin in the office, so now I do. He is very good with his hands (fnarr). No, seriously – he can pretty much do anything he puts his mind to. Here is the bin:

bin.jpg

And here he is wearing a pair of elf ears from my Christmas elf outfit (he is desperate for me to point out that these aren’t his real ears!)

Graham-elf-ears

Yesterday my lodger moved out, so I now have a lot more space (I’m not replacing her). Graham and John got everything down from the loft, opened all the boxes, put away their contents, cut up the boxes, unpacked my new mattress, and moved all the very unwieldy mattresses into different rooms. Then John ferried my daughter across London to a kids’ birthday party, and Graham painted the window sills and helped me put away all my clothes from the loft.

I think this is the very definition of true friendship: your friends help you and you help them, even when it means doing boring stuff, or travelling a long way, or letting you put a picture of them with elf ears on your blog.

DAILY STATS

Like me, John wants to lose some weight, so we’re starting a competition today – fastest to lose three stone. The winner takes the other one out to a posh restaurant for dinner! So here are our starting weights:

Me: 13st 0.2lbs (waist 36″, bust 43″)

John: 14st 7.5lbs

On your marks, get set, GO!

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Lucy Spencer, Mark White, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of amazing rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! Please support me on Patreon.