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 Before October 31st, I’ll buy some party snacks that won’t be out-of-date by December, and will send out the invitations to my friends with kids next month.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!)

My former life as a cartoon writer

In 2006, when I was 25, my flatmate Zarina Liew was a very talented aspiring illustrator, and as two Asian girls, she and I decided to produce a range of greeting cards for girls with the tongue-in-cheek name Love You Long Time. The venture was emphatically not a success, and I think I lost around £4,000 altogether trying to get it off the ground. It was the first of my three failing businesses. (Remind me never to start a business again!)

BeautifulThing

Then my lovely journalist friend Michael Shaw put a cartoon strip we created forward for a slot in his newspaper, the Times Education Supplement. Our bid was successful, and our cartoon All-Time High ran for six months in the magazine that came with the paper. We used the weekly £150 payment to replenish the £4,000 savings I’d lost on the greeting card business!

Each week, I would script the cartoon and send it to Zarina, and she would produce the strip. Here’s my favourite of our efforts:

TES - 'Definitions'.png

This next strip was based on my experiences at school, as teachers’ default positions seem to be that kids have a great relationship with their parents:

TES - 'Mother's Day'.png

And here’s another one I quite liked:

TES - 'Mendacity'.png

I really enjoyed scripting All-Time High, but the editor at the TES who was responsible for commissioning it (who has now left the paper) wanted to exert more and more control over it. At first everything was fine – we’d just deliver the cartoons each week – but then she wanted to see the scripts before they were inked; next she wanted to agree the topics before they went to script stage; finally she was vetoing everything I suggested. Eventually it became impossible to continue, and I quit in fury, thinking she was being thoroughly unreasonable.

Having been a journalist for many years now, I’ve yet to encounter this kind of control freakery again, so I think I was probably right. It’s a shame though, as it was a fun gig and I would have liked to carry on.

I can’t draw like Zarina, but I dabble from time to time. I wrote a little children’s book which never got published, about a hippo who wanted to be a supermodel, and I drew this illustration as part of it:

hetty.jpg

Here was the text:

Hetty the hippo and the supermodel dream

As Hetty the hippo
Lay dreaming in bed
A wonderful vision
Swam into her head

Of walking a runway
In beautiful clothes
Fine frocks on her figure
High heels on her toes

She leapt out of bed then
To tell all the land
About her ambition
So epic and grand

“A famed supermodel’s
What I want to be!”
Brave Hetty confided
To friends over tea

Alas, she was faced
With both laughter and scorn
At first, Rae the rhino
Sighed, tossing her horn

“What makes you think
You could strut like a star?
A massive fat hippo
Is all that you are!”

“She’s right!” chimed Pandora
The petulant pig
“Like me, you can’t model
We’re both much too big!”

“I won’t let that stop me!”
Het cried, undeterred
“Who cares what my size is?
That’s truly absurd!”

“We care,” hissed Camilla
The sleek and mean cat
“The whole of the world thinks
You’re simply too fat!”

Poor Hetty felt crushed
And her dream now seemed bleak
A single large tear
Made its way down her cheek

She stumbled away
Through the forests and streams
Vowing to give up
Her big fashion dreams

“Hey,” came a voice
“I don’t know who you are,
But your figure’s amazing
I’ll make you a star!”

Hetty turned round
And a jackal stood there
“I’m Jen,” she explained
“What great curves! What good hair!”

“But there’s no time to waste
Let’s not stand here and talk
My show’s in an hour
Please say that you’ll walk?”

Hetty was thrilled
Soon she donned fancy clothes
Sashayed down the runway
And strutted and posed

“This is the life!”
Hetty smiled, “It’s a doddle!”
For Hetty the hippo
Was finally a model.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 39

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 39 days: 8.8lbs)

Back on the wagon today.

John: 14st 5.5lbs (total loss in 39 days: 2lbs)

John is plugging another of his books.

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!)

My friendship with the Atheist Bus Campaign font creator

My friend Graham is a wonderful man – kind, funny and endlessly patient. But when he was younger, he had one flaw, which was using other people’s work without permission or payment. He once got in trouble with Getty Images for taking one of their photos from Google Images and using it for his company’s website. And when he came to design the Atheist Bus Campaign posters, he used the font without paying for it.

And so, one day in 2009, I got a message from an American man from Denver, Colorado called S. John Ross. He had created the font we’d used, Dirty Headline, and told me ‘The font was free for private use only. The side of a bus is not very private!’

ABC JG Banner Final.JPG

Now, approximately 75% of Americans are religious. I could have had the misfortune to have unknowingly misused the font of a Christian fundamentalist, and been sued for a pretty penny as a result – after all, this font had been used in campaigns in 13 different countries around the world, as well as being plastered all over the national and international press and endless Atheist Bus Campaign merchandise!

Luckily, S. John Ross was a very reasonable and generous man, and described himself as an ‘agnostic humanist’. I was skint as I’d been editing a charity book called The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas for free for six months. At my request, the publisher HarperCollins (who were using the font on the front of the book) paid S. John £500 for the privilege. I remember his invoice to them featuring the Bill and Ted quote ‘Be excellent to each other.’

atheists-guide

S. John and I kept emailing, giant six-page-long emails (if emails had pages), and soon became firm friends. He told me how much he loved his wife, Sandra, and I told him I wished I could find someone who would feel the same way about me as he did for her. We wrote about all kinds of things, one of which was my fear of flying, as the Sunday Times wanted me to go up in a tiny two-seater Cessna to cure my fear of planes.

I told S. John that Anaïs Nin once said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”, and that this quote was helping me. In response, he wrote me a wonderful email which used another Anaïs Nin quote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” He then added: ‘That’s a day to seek out, to strive for.’

So when I was asked to take part in a photography project, holding a quote that meant a lot to me, I used S. John’s. I also went up in the Cessna, clutching a sweaty printout of S. John’s email, and had my article about the experience published in the Sunday Times’ Travel section a few weeks later. It was my first ever article for them.

Me holding S John Ross quote 2

Sadly, S. John and I stopped writing around six months later. It was my fault: I was having a major nervous breakdown and just stopped emailing him without any warning or explanation. He was very hurt, but I hope he knows now that my mental illness was the true reason and not an excuse.

These days, we keep up with each other on Twitter. He’s at @SJohnRoss and is a super-smart and talented guy – as well as creating numerous fonts (which is no mean feat) he also makes role-playing games for a living.

I feel lucky to count him as a friend – and Sandra is a very lucky lady.

Me holding S John Ross quote.JPG

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 30

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 30 days: 8.8lbs)

I am truly plateauing.

John: 14st 4.5lbs (total loss in 30 days: 3lbs)

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters 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, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

The rudest letter I ever wrote

It was 1997, and I was 16 years old. Despite having an on-off boyfriend, I was very lonely. Then I stumbled across a now-defunct music magazine called Select, which had a contact ads section at the back. The pages weren’t exactly lonely hearts, though I’m sure that was on the minds of numerous advertisers, but they were an opportunity for geeky outcasts to meet other misfits.

In January of that year, a man called Graham placed an ad that said ‘Adventurous and insatiable male hermit, 19, requires intelligent corespondents [sic] to astound, bewilder, tantalise and bore. Self-important wordy sarcastic types encouraged.’ (The spelling mistake was the magazine’s, but I didn’t know that.) Graham seemed smart and interesting, so I wrote him a rather combative letter, trying to be sarcastic while simultaneously taking his ad entirely seriously. The one-page letter was typed on my parents’ word processor.

Intro.png

I’m cringing just reading it now! Back then, my personality was an odd combination of zero self-esteem, due to being abused physically and emotionally at home and bullied all the way through school; and self-confidence, having recently discovered that a lot of men wanted to have sex with me. At times, when I thought about my life to date, I felt suicidal – and, at that age, I was still self-harming and had only just stopped being anorexic.

Graham wrote a caustic reply in response to my opening gambit:

Graham's intro

Touché! So started a friendship that would last from then until the present day, off and on. Looking back, Graham’s letters were much more readable and mature than mine, but then I guess he was more than three years older.

However, I may have been an embarrassingly gauche and daft correspondent, but I certainly wasn’t boring. I was sure I had nothing to offer in terms of my personality, so tried to convince Graham I was irresistible – as I believed this was the only reason a man could ever be interested in me. In my first letter, I told him ‘I spend my days straddling naked men’. He retorted, ‘You didn’t say whether or not the naked men were conscious.’

In another letter, I naughtily tried to turn him on:

Sex.png

The rest of the letter is so racy and smutty that Graham asked last night, ‘Are you sure you want it out there if you’re applying for jobs? It’s X-rated!’ So I will save it for the memoir.

Back in 1997, Graham totally refused to take the bait and reciprocate. He said later that he had no idea what to make of me! He was much more withdrawn, reserved and measured than I was (then again so was pretty much everyone, including Julian Clary).

But our friendship progressed. Graham eventually sent me a perfectly attractive if rather sullen photo of himself:

Graham.png

However, he was extremely self-deprecating about his appearance, and I tried to reassure him:

Optician.png

Reading back through the letters I sent him, though there were jokes in, I was also incredibly depressed. I was still focused on self-harming:

Self-harming.png

And I couldn’t stop feeling sad and angry about my childhood:

Parents.png

But having a good friend to write to helped ease my pain very slightly, and he’s still there for me 22 years on.

Az-'n'-Graz.jpg

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 29

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 29 days: 8.8lbs)

God I can’t wait to be slim again!

John: 14st 3.5lbs (total loss in 29 days: 4lbs)

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters 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, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to 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.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful life

I had such an amazing birthday, full of friends and love. I was woken up by my eight-year-old daughter singing Happy Birthday down the phone, which was super-cute, even if it was at the crack of dawn before she went to school. I love her so much, sometimes I actually think my heart is going to explode, which would be unfortunate as my next book is called How to Live to 100. 

After being serenaded, I went for a run, because the new book I’m writing says the more exercise you do, the longer you’ll live. The run was meant to last ten minutes, but actually lasted about one minute. I’m hugely plus size and don’t own a sports bra, so was basically doing keepy-uppies with my boobs. It was not an edifying spectacle, so I curtailed it in seconds. THE SHAME!

Then I went for a massage. This was meant to be a blissful and relaxing experience. In reality, it meant having a strange woman’s elbow ground into my buttocks as I screamed in pain. ‘It will feel good after,’ she reassured me. I was like: yeah, because you’ll have stopped! This is the same beauty salon where I was ‘cupped’ against my will last week by an over-eager therapist. My back now looks like I’ve had sex with an octopus. I haven’t had any sex for ages, even though my new book says it lengthens life expectancy, so I guess I have to take what I can get…

Cupping

After the Massage of Pain, I enjoyed sushi at Yo! Sushi in Westfield Stratford City with my friend John, one of the warmest and funniest people ever. He’s almost exactly 30 years older than me, so next year we’re going to celebrate our 40th and 70th birthdays together and turn 110. Because he couldn’t quite be my grandad (he would have had to have been 15), I call him my Illegal Grandad. So he got me this birthday card:

John's card

Hilarious, and yet somehow so wrong.

Then I spent my best friend Graham’s birthday present: a £25 Paperchase gift card. I love stationery so much, I would have walked around the shop sniffing all the notebooks if it wasn’t ridiculously antisocial. If you want to make me happy, just send me a Paperchase gift card and I will happily spunk it on bits of overpriced paper. Hell yeah. I also bought a memory jar, which I’m going to fill with all my favourite recollections.

Paperchase

After that, John and I went to see the film Yesterday, which was very enjoyable and a solid 7/10. The best character was the cynical, sociopathic artist manager, who had absolutely no filter. She was great, and Ed Sheeran was also good value. It was a much better film than Support the Girls, which we saw on Monday on Barack Obama’s recommendation. It was rubbish and we walked out after 20 minutes (I had to wake John up as he was asleep!). My new mission is to track down the rest of Bazza’s favourite films so I can avoid them all.

Yesterday

Throughout the day, I was amazed by incredible messages of kindness on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It was a real outpouring of love, and I felt overwhelmed and so happy. Human beings can be so lovely. Sometimes I think I have few friends compared to other people and feel quite lonely – I don’t have a big group of girly mates, for instance, and I’m a bit different to other people as my life hasn’t been the easiest 39 trips around the sun – but on days like this I realise I have lots of support out there, and it means the world to me.

The pièce de résistance of my 39th birthday was a meal at dreamy Soho dim sum restaurant Yauatcha with my wonderful friend Annabel. She’s just so big-hearted and generous and funny. She arranged for them to bring out a birthday ice cream with a candle for me, and sang Happy Birthday! We only really struck up our friendship earlier this year, after knowing each other a little for 12 years (we used to work together) and every time I see her, it’s like having happiness injected into my soul. (Yes, I am very soppy…)

Annabel

All that’s left to say is: thank you if you were a part of my birthday. It’s the best one I can remember, and I can’t wait to see what the year ahead holds.

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, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of amazing rewards in addition to this credit! Please support me on Patreon.