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!)

The Memory Jar

The title of this post reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which is daft because that novel is about mental illness, while The Memory Jar is meant to generate happiness. You might even say the comparison jars with me (ba-dum-tsch)…

memory-jar-2

I’d heard of memory jars before, but this one caught my eye on my birthday when I was browsing in Paperchase, my favourite stationery store. The concept is that you write beloved memories on little bits of paper, fold them up, put them in the jar, forget about them, and then open the jar when you need cheering up and/or a refreshing blast of nostalgia.

I guess theoretically you could use any jar – there’s no need to spend £10 if you’re hard up. Perhaps you’re reading this after Brexit, in which case just a washed out jam jar and some loo roll will do (kidding, we won’t have any loo roll as 95% of it is imported from the EU!). But anyway, if you do fancy splashing out, this jar is beautifully designed and comes with a handy pad of 100 blank notes for your memories.

memory-jar-3

It’s a glass jar, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be a terrible omen if it turned out to be broken?!’ (I don’t believe in terrible omens, but it would have been a bit of a bummer on my birthday.) But no: it’s a quality item, sturdy and well-packed, printed with a great font and a rose gold lid to boot (half the items in my house are rose gold). The brand is Eve (no, not the mattress people. Well, maybe. I’ve certainly made some sweet memories on mattresses in my time!)

Weirdly, I can’t find the jar anywhere online, including on the Paperchase website – but I got it from the Westfield Stratford City store, so you could try there if you’re a Londoner, or visit the massive store in Tottenham Court Road (my personal version of Disneyland). I hope they still stock them, as the jars are so nice I actually fancy buying a couple more.

So today I wrote down my first memory. There’s a fluffy ginger cat who lives in the next road, whom we’ve imaginatively christened ‘Gingie’. He’s maddeningly elusive so is rarely in his favourite spot on top of the bin. Here he is, looking for all the world like a Bond villain’s cat.

Gingie

Anyhow, my eight-year-old daughter Lily has really taken a shine to him. ‘I haven’t seen Gingie in ages!’ she often wails when we come home and there’s no sign of him en route. She, my good friend John and I all love to pet Gingie, and we’re always happy to see him – though being a cat, he doesn’t reciprocate and generally regards us with haughty disdain.

I love to see my daughter enjoying his company, as her whole face brightens when she spots his fluffy orange fur. So I decided to make seeing her stroke Gingie my first memory. Of course, it’s not the sweetest memory I have, nor the most nostalgic, but it is recent and the thought of it makes me smile, so I wrote it down on the notepad.

memory-jar-4

John met Gingie’s owner’s next-door neighbour one day. Apparently Gingie is actually called Ginger, which is very much in Pope-Catholic-bears-woods territory. So I wrote this down on the note, imagining some far distant future where I have dementia like my poor 94-year-old Nan and am all like ‘Gingie? Who’s Gingie?’

I tore off the note and put it in the jar, though I had to fold it several times to get it in.

memory-jar-5

memory-jar-6

I’m not really sure how many notes the jar will hold. I’m sceptical that it will hold all 100, though I suppose it depends how small and tightly you fold them and how they fall together in the jar. There are bound to be loads of gaps, though I suppose you could take the lid off and pack them yourself.

But all that really matters is that the jar is full of loveliness, and that when I read the note above, it transports me back to this.

Gingie-and-Lily

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE…

… is on hiatus until tomorrow (sorry) as neither John nor I weighed ourselves this morning. See you tomorrow!

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 I came runner-up in a BBC sitcom award (part 2)

If you haven’t read yesterday’s post yet, please do that first.

To recap: I’d written a script called Hyde & Sikh for a BBC sitcom writing contest, aged 21. My sassy Asian main character Leila has just been told by her very traditional Indian dad that he’s found a suitor for her. She is outraged and determined never to have an arranged marriage. To make matters worse, a sexist builder called Darren has just chatted her up at the bus stop…

Here’s the next part:

 

SCENE 3:  INT. GRIMP & GRIMP SOLICITORS’ OFFICE (DAY)

 LEILA ENTERS WORK AND WALKS INTO HER OFFICE, WHICH SHE SHARES WITH HER COLLEAGUE AMRIT. LEILA’S HALF OF THE OFFICE IS TIDY AND SPOTLESS, WHILE AMRIT’S IS BURIED UNDER MOUNTAINS OF PAPERWORK. AMRIT IS SHORT AND VERY OVERWEIGHT, AND WEARS GARISH CLOTHES THAT EXPOSE HER HUGE BOSOM TO FULL EFFECT. SHE IS SLUMPED OVER HER DESK, LOOKING THE WORSE FOR WEAR, GROPING BLINDLY AMONGST THE PAPERS.

LEILA:

Amrit! What happened to you?

AMRIT: (SLURRING)

Lasnite. Drunk too mush.

LEILA:

Look at the state of you! You’re meant to be a paralegal, not paralytic.

AMRIT: (LOOKING UP BLEARILY)

Got a hangover, innit?

LEILA:

Innit? Isn’t it what? Shocking that you’ve failed to grasp basic English?

AMRIT:

What d’you mean?

LEILA: (SLOWLY AND LOUDLY)

Where’s your grammar?

AMRIT:

She’s in Nottingham. Mr Grimp’s gonna kill me – I can’t find that bloody affidavit. I know it’s here somewhere.

LEILA:

Of course it is, everything’s here somewhere. You could probably find Bin Laden in here somewhere if you looked hard enough! [Very topical joke in 2002, sadly not in 2019.]

AMRIT:

Mmm. Come to think of it, he’s quite fit.

LEILA:

Amrit! Ugh!

AMRIT:

You hate all blokes though. (SUDDENLY LOOKS ALERT.) Which reminds me – who was that hunky bloke you were with this morning?

LEILA: (FEIGNING INNOCENCE)

Who?

AMRIT:

Oh, you don’t have to lie to me. Auntiegee gave me a lift into work and we passed the bus stop. We both saw you talking to him.

LEILA:

You appear to have confused ‘talking’ with ‘pest control’. You could have stopped to rescue me.

AMRIT:

I didn’t want to disturb you. So you didn’t fancy him then?

LEILA:

No, he was a total Newark.

AMRIT: (BEMUSED)

But he’s gorgeous, isn’t he? If you aren’t interested, I am. Marks out of two?  I’d give him one!

LEILA:

Amrit! You wouldn’t like it if some sexist idiot said that about you.

AMRIT:

I would. Well, I’d like the chance to find out. What was his name?

LEILA:

Darren, I think.

AMRIT: (MAKING A MENTAL NOTE)

Darren. So you definitely don’t fancy him?

LEILA:

No! (COUGHS). I mean, he’s not totally unattractive, but… no, of course not.

AMRIT:

That’s good – you’d be in for so much hassle if you did.

LEILA:

Yeah. Speaking of which, my Dad started making some noises about arrangements this morning. I couldn’t believe it. After all I’ve said…

AMRIT: (SITTING BOLT UPRIGHT, GOGGLE-EYED)

Seriously? What did you do?

LEILA:

What do you think I did? Said ‘alright then’? I told him where to go!

AMRIT:

I just don’t understand you sometimes. You don’t even want to meet anyone.  And I can’t believe you’re not curious about sex.

LEILA:

Of course I’m not. Sex involves men – it’s bound to be crap.

AMRIT:

You’re turning into the Asian Ann Widdecombe. Next you’ll be saying you’d prefer a nice cup of Darjeeling.

LEILA:

It’s better than alcohol. You shouldn’t drink so much. Alcohol only exists so ugly men can have sex.

AMRIT:

And ugly girls. It’s alright for you, you can have anyone you want. I only get introduced to old men, guys with BO and blokes who want a passport.

LEILA:

Amrit! You haven’t been dating the clients!

 

SCENE 4: EXT. THE BUILDING SITE (DAY)

 DARREN AND HIS WORKMATES DEAN AND WAYNE ARE ON THEIR LUNCH BREAK, SITTING ON A WALL DRINKING CUPS OF TEA AND SMOKING. A GIRL IN A SHORT SKIRT WALKS PAST AND DEAN AND WAYNE WOLF WHISTLE APPRECIATIVELY. THE GIRL SMILES AT DARREN, BUT HE TAKES NO NOTICE.

DEAN [to DARREN]:

What’s up with you? You haven’t leered at a single bird today.

WAYNE:

Or a married one, come to that. You could have been in there. Are you not feeling well or something?

DARREN:

Don’t laugh fellas, but I think I’m in love. I met this gorgeous Asian bird today, absolutely stunning. Her name’s Leila, and she’s all I can think about. But I don’t think she’s allowed to see blokes who aren’t Sikh.

WAYNE:

Why, is she a doctor?

DARREN:

Nah mate, seek, seek. You know, she’s one of them girls who’s got hair down to their arse.

WAYNE:

Oh, right. Just as long as it’s not growing down her back.

DEAN:

Where did you meet her?

DARREN:

At the bus stop outside her house. She lives at number 48.

DEAN:

Well, be there again same time tomorrow morning. Tell her she’s beautiful and ask her what she’s doing Saturday night. The worst she can do is say no.

DARREN:

That’s the least she’ll do. People must ask her out all the time. It’ll take a lot more than that to win her over.

WAYNE:

Tell you what, give me them crisps and I’ll let you in on some of my fail-safe chat up lines.

DARREN: (UNSURE)

Mmm. Go on then. (TOSSES WAYNE THE CRISPS.)

WAYNE OPENS THE PACKET AND PUTS ONE IN HIS MOUTH.

WAYNE: (LOOKING DOUBTFULLY AT THE PACKET)

Curry flavour?

DARREN: (SHRUGGING)

It’s a start…

 

SCENE 5:  EXT. STREET LEADING UP TO ITALIAN CAFE (DAY)

AMRIT AND LEILA LEAVE THE OFFICE AND WALK DOWN THE STREET IN ORDER TO GET LUNCH. THEY ENTER A CAFE, WHICH IS A GRUBBY ITALIAN WITH BOOTHS AND FORMICA TABLES. A WAITER STANDS BEHIND THE TILL.

WAITER: (TO LEILA)

Ciao, bella!

LEILA ROLLS HER EYES UPWARDS.

AMRIT:

Her name’s Leila, not Bella.

WAITER: (TRYING TO EXPLAIN TO AMRIT IN BROKEN ENGLISH)

No, I say… ‘You’re beautiful.’

AMRIT: (BEAMING AND PULLING DOWN HER TOP TO SHOW MORE CLEAVAGE)

Ooh, thank you!

WAITER LOOKS A BIT FRIGHTENED.

LEILA:

I’ll have a prawn mayonnaise ciabatta please.

AMRIT:

Egg and chips for me.

SUDDENLY LEILA SPIES DARREN IN ONE OF THE BOOTHS AND FLATTENS HERSELF AGAINST THE SWING DOORS SO HE CAN’T SEE HER.

LEILA: (HISSING)

I have to leave!

AMRIT:

Give it a chance. You probably won’t get food poisoning.

LEILA:

No – I’ve just seen Darren over there!

AMRIT:

Where? Where? 

 SHE STARTS CRANING HER NECK ROUND TO SEE IF SHE CAN SPOT HIM.

LEILA:

Shut up and stop it! Don’t look at him. And don’t you dare talk to him. I’m going back to the office now – you get the food and come straight back, okay?  Promise?

AMRIT: (PUTTING ON AN INNOCENT, WIDE-EYED LOOK)

Of course. What else would I do?

 LEILA LEAVES.  AMRIT MAKES COMPLETELY SURE THAT SHE’S GONE, THEN MARCHES STRAIGHT OVER TO THE BOYS’ TABLE AND EYES UP DARREN HOPEFULLY FROM A DISTANCE OF ABOUT TWO METRES. THEY STARE AT HER GARISH TOP AND MAKEUP IN DISBELIEF.

WAYNE: (SARCASTICALLY, NOT LOUDLY ENOUGH FOR AMRIT TO HEAR)

Phwoarr! Another eight pints and I’ll be right in there!

DARREN:

Don’t be so horrible.  She’s probably very nice inside.

WAYNE: (SURVEYING AMRIT’S RATHER EXPANSIVE GIRTH)

Yeah, but you’d have to dig through a lot to get there. Is that Leila? Don’t fancy yours much!

AMRIT HEARS HIM AND TURNS BRIGHT RED.

AMRIT: (HOTLY)

I’m Leila’s best friend actually, so anything you say can and might well get back to her.

DARREN SITS BOLT UPRIGHT, SHOCKED.

DARREN: (HASTILY)

Oh, Wayne’s only joking. He always says the opposite of what he means. I’m Darren, Darren Hyde, this is Dean and this is Wayne (GESTICULATES AT THEM RESPECTIVELY.) You’re Leila’s best friend then?

AMRIT:

Yeah, known her since primary school.

WAYNE:

Then maybe you can tell us why she’s so up herself.

AMRIT GIGGLES DISLOYALLY.

DEAN:

He means, why was she so snarky with Darren when he asked her out?

AMRIT:

God, did he? Oh, she’d never go out with an English boy, her father wouldn’t let her.

DARREN:

If she did, would he send her back where she came from?

AMRIT:

What, Newark General Hospital?

DARREN:

Eh? No, um, Asia.

AMRIT: (SHAKES HER HEAD PITYINGLY)

You clearly don’t understand much about our background, do you? But I’d be happy to teach you about it over coffee sometime. (SHE WINKS IN WHAT SHE HOPES IS A SEXY FASHION.)

DARREN: (RECOILING IN HORROR)

Er, no you’re alright.

AMRIT: (SHRUGS, CLEARLY PUT OUT)

Suit yourself.

DEAN: (LEANS OVER TO DARREN AND HISSES INTO HIS EAR)

What are you doing, man? If she’s Leila’s best mate, she can fill you in on her background and parents a bit, and you can work out the best plan of attack.

DARREN: (HISSING BACK TO DEAN)

Alright, if I have to. (NOW SPEAKS TO AMRIT.) Er, actually, coffee sounds… good.

AMRIT: (BEAMING ONCE MORE)

Brilliant. My name’s Amrit by the way, and you can meet me here tomorrow at 1pm, just you and me (GLARES AT WAYNE). Then we can have a nice long chat.

AMRIT WADDLES OFF, COLLECTS THE TAKEAWAY AND LEAVES, AS DEAN AND WAYNE START LAUGHING AGAIN.

WAYNE:

I think you’re in there, mate.

DARREN: (PUTTING HIS HEAD IN HIS HANDS)

Oh God.

 

SCENE 6: INT. LEILA’S HOUSE (EVENING)

LEILA ARRIVES HOME FROM WORK TO HAVE HER FATHER GREET HER EXCITEDLY AT THE DOOR.

DAD:

Hello Leila.  How was work?

LEILA:

Oh, wildly exciting. I had a Mr. P. Niss wanting to change his name by deed poll, a 93-year-old demanding a divorce so he could marry an 18-year-old, and a couple fighting over custody of a hamster.

DAD: (SMILING, NOT UNDERSTANDING)

Very nice. And did you make much money?

LEILA: (SIGHING)

No Dad, we have this conversation every day. I make money for the company, not for myself.

DAD:

Well, soon you could have more money than you ever thought. (HE SMILES A PROUD, KNOWING SMILE AND PRODUCES A PHOTO OF A VERY LARGE, UGLY ELDERLY ASIAN MAN, WHICH HE HOLDS UP IN FRONT OF LEILA.)

LEILA:

Great. It’s the Sikh Jabba the Hut.

DAD:

Nay, nay, Leila. Do you not know him? He is a very successful businessman, millionaire, very educated. His name is Devinder Brar, he is a music mogul, and he wants to be introduced to you! He is coming to meet you on Saturday.

LEILA: (DISBELIEVINGLY)

Sorry, is it April Fools’ Day? Or am I merely hallucinating? Forgive me, but I thought you just said you were setting me up on a blind date with some fat old man.

DAD:

Yes, I know – I cannot believe how lucky we are either!

LEILA:

Dad, have you forgotten all those conversations we had? You know, the ones where I told you I was never, ever getting paired off with some random bloke, no matter what people are going to think? You said you understood.

DAD:

But you are older now, and back then there wasn’t anybody suitable.

LEILA:

You mean, there wasn’t anybody rich. You know yourself that the scriptures say you’re not supposed to even consider money.

DAD:

No, I know, but… Leila, since business has been so bad, you know how much we’ve had to struggle. And now if it all goes well with Devinder, we can all be secure.

LEILA SIGHS AND FLOUNCES OUT.

 

SCENE 7: EXT. THE BUS STOP (DAY)

DARREN IS WAITING AT THE BUS STOP WHEN LEILA ARRIVES.

DARREN:

Leila! How’s tricks?

LEILA:

Sadly I haven’t yet figured out the one where I make you disappear.

DARREN:

Er, right. Listen, you look amazing, but a bit tired. That could be because you’ve been running through my mind all night.

LEILA:

Couldn’t find any signs of life though.

DARREN:

I know you probably don’t have dreams about me, but I wanted you to know –

LEILA: (INTERRUPTING)

On the contrary, I had a fantastic dream about you just last night. You were standing right there…

(SHE POINTS INTO THE ROAD)

…and the bus came.

DARREN: (EARNESTLY)

Seriously Leila, jokes aside, I really like you. I know you’re Sikh and I’m not. I know you’re brown and I’m white, but I wouldn’t care if we were green and purple. I have a very open mind.

LEILA:

That must be how your intelligence left your brain.

DARREN:

I know I’m not the smartest and am quite ignorant about your religion. But I’m going to learn more about it. Do you speak Indian?

LEILA:

I don’t know. Do you speak British?

DARREN: (LOOKING VERY CONFUSED)

I suppose so. But what I really want to know is, what are you doing on Saturday night?

LEILA: (PUTTING HER HEAD IN HER HANDS)

If you ‘really want to know’, my potential husband is coming round. He’s never met me before. He is old and fat. As you can imagine, this does not fill me with joy.  However, my parents are really hard-up. My dad’s business isn’t going well, my mum’s disabled and we’re not doing too well on just my salary, and this man’s a millionaire and would sort all that out. Any ideas, Einstein?

DARREN:

You could have kids with me. I’d even wear a beard and turban, I’d learn Indian and convert.

LEILA:

I don’t think my religion would have you.

DARREN:

How do you find out? Is there an application form?

LEILA: (ROLLING EYES)

Darren, I commend your persistence, but I really don’t want a man.

DARREN: (PERPLEXED)

But Leila, I’ve waited all my life to meet you.I’m prepared to wait for you forever.

LEILA:

That’s fortunate, as that’s exactly what you’ll have to do. Isn’t this your bus?

BUS NUMBER 2 PULLS UP TO LET PASSENGERS OFF

DARREN: (SHRUGS)

Yeah, but I want to stay here and talk to you. It’s the highlight of my day.

BUS NUMBER 2 DEPARTS

LEILA:

What, above mixing concrete and laying bricks? Oh look, you should have taken your bus, ‘cause here’s mine. Goodbye.

SHE GETS ON THE BUS, LEAVING A DEJECTED LOOKING DARREN STANDING FORLORNLY AT THE BUS STOP.

Continued in part 3 tomorrow…

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 36

Me: 12st 5lbs (total loss in 35 days: 9.2lbs)

I went to a book launch with amazing catering last night and didn’t eat a thing. This makes me both sad and happy.

John: 14st 3.5lbs (total loss in 36 days: 4lbs)

John is stealthily plugging a book he wrote.

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, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

The time I came runner-up in a BBC sitcom award (part 1)

In 2002, aged 21, I was waiting in a queue at HMV when I spotted a booklet at the tills for BBC Talent. It was an initiative designed to find new writing and presenting talent, and one of the contests was a comedy scriptwriting competition: the BBC Talent New Sitcom Writers’ Award.

I thought I was pretty funny, but had never written a script in my life. The BBC wanted applicants to send in the first few pages of a sitcom script, but I didn’t have one. Fine, I thought, with characteristic 21-year-old chutzpah: I’ll write one! I’d had a good run of luck in the previous few years – winning Miss Harrow and getting a First in my degree – and so I told myself it was worth entering, even if I didn’t get through.

I’d been staying with my religious Asian grandparents in Leicester the previous year. They’d had an arranged marriage when my nan was just 19, and I wondered what it would have been like to be forced to have one myself. Though it might not immediately seem like an ideal subject for a sitcom, I thought the idea of rebelling against such a marriage had comic potential. I’d considered writing about this idea since staying with my grandparents, but had been finishing my degree and hadn’t done anything about it.

I therefore began to create a family of sitcom characters. But I told myself I couldn’t write about a Zoroastrian family like my mum’s, ’cause who the hell had ever heard of Zoroastrians? Every time I mentioned being Zoroastrian to someone, they either asked ‘What-Austrian?’ or made a joke about Zorro!

So I decided to write about a different Asian religion, mainly so I could make a daft pun. My main character, a Punjabi girl called Leila, was a feminist who hated men (forgive me, fellow feminists, but I was young). She was being wooed by a builder called Darren Hyde, for the sole reason that I could then call my sitcom Hyde and Sikh. Again, I can only apologise…

Me mirror.jpg

Anyhow, the premise each episode was that Leila’s parents would set her up with an Asian suitor, in the hopes that she would agree to an arranged marriage with him. She would then team up with the besotted and unreconstructed English builder Darren in order to scare off the suitor.

So I wrote the script according to the online template the BBC had provided. I found it again in the deepest recesses of my hard drive, and here it is!

HYDE & SIKH

Episode 1: ‘A Hairy Situation’

OUTLINE

Sassy Sikh girl verbally outwits besotted builder, parents and potential husbands alike.

SYNOPSIS

Leila Kaur is a 25-year-old Sikh solicitor living in Newark with her parents, who are trying to find her a suitable husband. Unfortunately Leila thinks men are pathetic, a view compounded by her biggest admirer Darren Hyde – an English builder who lives down her road. Darren is totally infatuated with Leila, and makes it his mission to intercept and thwart all the suitors who come to visit her.

SCENE 1: INT. LEILA’S HOUSE, 48 WARWICK STREET (MORNING)

LEILA COMES INTO THE KITCHEN, DRESSED READY FOR WORK. HER PARENTS ARE HAVING BREAKFAST. LEILA POURS HERSELF A GLASS OF WATER AND STARTS DRINKING IT.

LEILA’S DAD: (STRONG INDIAN ACCENT)

Hello my sweet flower. You are looking very beautiful this morning. How are you today?

LEILA: (SUSPICIOUSLY)

What do you want?

DAD: (SMILING)

I have some good news.

LEILA: (DRYLY)

Don’t tell me – you’re finally starting to understand the jokes on Goodness Gracious Me?

DAD: (SHAKING HIS HEAD AND ROLLING HIS EYES)

Nay. (GRINS SLYLY AND PROUDLY) I… have found a man.

LEILA: (COUGHING, SHOCKED)

Blimey. You’re having a midlife crisis? Don’t worry, it’s cool with me.

LEILA’S MUM (MRS. KAUR) IS SMILING AND NODDING IN HER WHEELCHAIR.

MUM: (IN A VERY STRONG INDIAN ACCENT)

Very nice man.

LEILA:

And Mum seems okay with it.

LEILA’S DAD LOOKS VERY SHOCKED AND BEWILDERED, AND THUMPS THE TABLE.

DAD:

No! I have found a man, for you!

LEILA CHOKES ON HER GLASS OF WATER, SPILLING IT EVERYWHERE.

LEILA: (SPLUTTERING)

What? Well… well you can just go and put him back where you found him! I’ve told you since I was thirteen, you’re not arranging anything with me. Goodbye!

SHE GRABS HER COAT AND STORMS OUT OF THE HOUSE, SLAMMING THE FRONT DOOR. HER DAD RUSHES AFTER HER AND REOPENS THE DOOR.

DAD: (YELLING)

Leila, come back here now!

SCENE 2: EXT. THE BUS STOP, WARWICK STREET (DAY)

LEILA STOMPS OUT OF HER HOUSE AND SITS ON THE BENCH AT THE BUS STOP A FEW DOORS DOWN. SIMULTANEOUSLY, DARREN HYDE STROLLS OUT OF HIS OWN HOUSE, WHISTLING, AND DOES A DOUBLE TAKE WHEN HE SEES LEILA. HE COMES AND SITS AT THE OTHER END OF THE BENCH, STILL GAWPING AT HER. LEILA TAKES ONE LOOK AT HIS SCRAGGY VEST, PAINT-SPATTERED CLOTHES AND LEER, AND MOVES RIGHT TO THE END OF THE SEATING ARRANGEMENT.

DARREN(WOLFWHISTLING)

Cor!

LEILA GIVES HIM A DISPARAGING LOOK.

DARREN:

Asian babe!

LEILA:

Earth is full. Go home.

DARREN LOOKS A BIT SHOCKED, THEN REGAINS HIS COMPOSURE.

DARREN:

Nah, they don’t have anyone as fit as you there.

LEILA:

No, not if you’re anything to go by.

DARREN LOOKS INDIGNANT, AND PUFFS HIMSELF UP.

DARREN:

I’m the sexiest bloke in Newark, I am.

LEILA:

Which reminds me, I must relocate.

DARREN:

And I own my own company.

LEILA:

Then why don’t you keep your own company?

DARREN:

I’m an entrepreneur, me. I have to make crucial decisions every day.

LEILA:

Let me guess: Daily Star or Daily Sport?

DARREN SIGHS, LOOKING PUT OUT.

DARREN:

You’re not impressed then?

LEILA:

How many times am I going to have to flush before you’ll go away?

DARREN:

Okay, okay, but just tell me one thing – where are you from?

LEILA: (GESTICULATING TO THEIR SURROUNDINGS)

What does it look like?

DARREN:

No, I mean really from.

LEILA: (ROLLING HER EYES)

Newark, you imbecile.

DARREN:

Right, yeh. It’s just that you’re so beautiful and exotic, and Newark, well… Newark’s the only town in England that’s an anagram of ‘wanker.’

LEILA:

You must feel very much at home.

DARREN: (SOUNDING HURT)

Come on, I was only asking.

LEILA: (RELENTING)

My family originate from the Punjab. I’m Sikh.

DARREN: (LOOKING HER UP AND DOWN)

You look alright to me.

LEILA STANDS UP TO SEE IF THE BUS IS COMING (CLOSE-UP ON EMPTY STREET), THEN SIGHS AND SITS DOWN AGAIN. 

DARREN(HOPEFULLY)

I heard a good Asian joke the other day.

LEILA: (SARCASTICALLY)

Now let’s see, would that be the one about the Asian lesbian called Mingita? Or the one about Asian people being so bad at football because every time they get a corner, they build a shop?

DARREN:

Nah, don’t worry love – I’m sexist, not racist.  I’m Darren by the way, of Darren Hyde Construction. I just moved into number 72, so you could say I’m right up your street.

LEILA:

Right up my nose, more like.

THE BUS COMES AND LEILA RAISES HER HAND TO STOP IT.

DARREN:

Wait… can I see you again?

LEILA:

Sure. Let me see, are you free…. never?

SHE FLICKS HER HAIR BACK HAUGHTILY AND GETS ON THE BUS.

Continued in Part 2 tomorrow…

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 35

Me: 12st 5lbs (total loss in 35 days: 9.2lbs)

I fell so far off the wagon last night that it rolled away into the distance. This week is a write-off dietwise – I have a book launch, lunch with a publisher and endless treats in the house for the eight-year-old. Will do much better soon.

John: 14st 3.25lbs (total loss in 35 days: 4.25lbs)

Go John!

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, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

What it’s really like appearing on the radio

After I blogged about what it’s like doing live telly, lovely Twitter follower @mrjacktanner asked if doing live radio is different:

So here’s the answer: in my view, doing live radio is far easier than doing live telly, because no one can see you. You could literally be scratching your arse throughout the whole segment and no one would know. Of course, as it’s live, there’s always the chance that you’ll inadvertently say something stupid, which can give rise to nerves.

If I’m at the end of a phone line or alone in a separate studio (and not actually in the studio with the presenter), I generally get around this fear by writing down exactly what I’m going to say – or, at least, having a few pages of notes in front of me, because you can never predict exactly what questions you’re going to be asked. If I’m in the studio with the presenter, then I don’t take in the notes – I just prepare and rehearse beforehand and hope what I’m saying makes sense.

There’s not really much in the way of rigmarole when it comes to doing radio – you enter the studio quietly, making sure your phone is on silent, sit down at the desk, put your bag underneath it, put the headphones on and come close to the mic. Make sure you have some water nearby in case you have a coughing fit. If it’s before the show or the adverts are on or some music, the presenter will greet you; if not and they’re talking, they’ll just nod and smile at you. Your view of them can be blocked by monitors or mics, but you should be able to wheel your chair around for a better view.

I’ve done lots of radio in my pants on the end of a phone line (LBC in particular have lots of phone-in guests) and have also done radio in a studio by myself. It’s much more fun and glamorous when you’re in the studio with the presenter though. The last time was a couple of weeks ago on BBC Asian Network with Mobeen, talking about my experiences of cyberflashing and what we can do about it. It was the hottest day of the year and the New Broadcasting House studio was air-conditioned, which was very pleasant indeed!

DSC_1185.jpg

Generally, radio is a lot more low-stakes because of the lack of visuals and the lack of budgets. At my level, you rarely get paid for radio appearances, and nor do you get taxis. (It’s ironic that the more successful you are and the more money you have, the more you get!). During the Atheist Bus Campaign, I was asked to appear on a popular radio station halfway across town, and a celebrity friend suggested I ask the producer for a taxi. So I did, and was met with the coldly-asked question: ‘Do you have mobility issues?’ That put me in my place!

Another time, I was asked to do a few drafts of a page-long radio script and then come into a central London studio and read it out – so a day’s work, in effect. The princely sum I received? £66!

At the same time, radio can be a lot of fun. One of my favourite memories is appearing on Talk Radio’s The Ian Collins Show back in summer 2009, which basically entailed two hours of on-air flirting with Ian. I managed to relax, and the result was lots of witty repartee. We actually met up a few weeks after that, but by then I was dating Lily’s dad (though she was only a twinkle in his eye at that stage).

I was also interviewed about the Atheist Bus Campaign by George Galloway on Talk Radio in 2009. He was quite nice, despite not hiding the fact that he was a believer, and finished the interview by saying in his Scottish lilt, ‘Ariane, I hope you see the light very soon!’. I was going to make a quip about there being a lamp post outside, but I didn’t.

My most starry radio appearance was on Radio 4’s Loose Ends last October, where I promoted Talk Yourself Better. The show was presented by the wonderful Arthur Smith and Clive Anderson, both of whom I managed to convince to be in my next book, How to Live to 100. As a telling sign of a great show, there were pastries galore in the green room!

Elodie

I was on that episode of Loose Ends with lovely Hollywood actress Andrea Riseborough (who starred in the brilliant but terrifying Black Mirror episode ‘Crocodile’) as well as Northern Irish actor Colin Morgan and US million-selling author Michael Connelly – and music from British rapper Kojey Radical. It’s fair to say I was definitely the smallest fish in that pond! We all sat around the table together (except for Kojey, who was performing) and went for pizza afterwards, and Andrea emailed me a free download link to her new film Nancy. You can listen to the show here.

Lastly: in early 2009, I got to make radio history by giving Radio 4’s first atheist ‘Thought for the Afternoon’ on the iPM programme. It was considered such a big deal that it got its own Guardian news story, though they did describe the Atheist Bus Campaign as ‘controversial’. What is the world coming to when ‘There’s probably no God’ is seen as controversial in the UK, where at least 52% of the population is non-religious?!

You can hear my Thought for the Afternoon below. (They describe the campaign as controversial too, but then R4 are more old school.)

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

DAY 31

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 31 days: 8.8lbs)

It’s really frustrating to have dieted really hard the previous day, eating nothing but protein, veg and fruit, and still be the same weight. Hopefully I’ll see a change on the scales soon.

John: 14st 3.75lbs (total loss in 31 days: 3.75lbs)

I have put a filter on so John’s fungal toenails (and political leanings) aren’t so obvious!

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!

What it’s really like doing live telly

Every so often, a producer phones me up and asks if I’ll appear on live telly to talk about a particular issue (generally something to do with atheism). I don’t know why I fear this as much as I do – every telly appearance I’ve done bar one (The Alan Titchmarsh Show, which ironically wasn’t live) has been absolutely fine.

The thing is, I know that appearing on TV raises my profile slightly and I’ll meet interesting people and get a small fee (typically £50 or £100) – so I usually bite down my nerves and agree to go on. Then I dread it until it’s over. But I’ve done around two dozen live TV appearances now, and despite a few panic attacks when I was starting out, I’m beginning to get used to appearing.

So what happens when you go on live telly? Well, first you have to appear on the radar of a show’s producer for some reason. The Atheist Bus Campaign tends to be the way they find me, even ten years on. I reckon I’m now on some sort of atheist telly watch list!

Then they email, generally, and ask if I’d be willing to appear on their show the next day. I say yes if I can, for the reasons above. They then phone and chat to me about the topic in question, to check I’m articulate and can put across a strong point of view. Though obviously not too strong (‘they should all be killed!’ doesn’t tend to go down well).

During this conversation, I force myself to ask the producer what the fee is. I always worry that by bringing up money, I’ll rule myself out, and instead they’ll choose someone who isn’t as mercenary as me. But seriously: you don’t ask, you don’t get – and even if the fee is only £50, it covers any necessary travel and the time taken out of your day to appear.

If you don’t get a fee, you’re effectively paying to go on the show, which is ridiculous as it wouldn’t be a show without any guests – plus most of these shows have big budgets (you can bet the presenters are being paid several thousand pounds per episode).

[I wore this green Dorothy Perkins dress for several TV appearances.]

Sometimes the producer will book you a taxi to the studio – this always used to be the case – but lately I’ve noticed that, as I live in London, they often say ‘It’s probably quickest if you just jump on the Tube’.

It’s not really, as I live 20 minutes’ walk from the Tube station and  it takes £10 out of my fee, but I don’t want to be labelled difficult. Plus I often get car sick, though I’d deal with that this summer for a luxury air-conditioned ride!

I’ll spend the evening before the appearance deciding what to wear. It will largely depend on the colour of the sofa I’m going to be sitting in front of – you need to wear a contrasting colour so as not to blend in!

Then I’ll iron the outfit and put every part of it out ready to wear in the morning. I’ll spend that night tossing and turning in bed, feeling nervous, going over and over my argument for the show in my head, unable to sleep. But back to generalities…

When you get to the studio, you give the receptionist your name and the name of the show you’re appearing on, and they call the runner to come and collect you. They also print out a pass for you, which you’re not meant to wear. At the BBC, your bag gets X-rayed, which is reassuring as long as it doesn’t contain a sex toy. Then the runner collects you and takes you down in the lift to the green room.

The green room is a kind of hotel suite with more armchairs instead of a bed, where all the guests hang out before and during the show. It always has a telly so you can watch the show before you go on, and facilities for making tea and coffee, and sometimes if you’re lucky there’s a tray full of pastries.

You can chat to the other guests – I always do, though sometimes they’re not very friendly, especially if they’re taking the opposing side of a debate to you. One girl who I shan’t name looked me up and down like I was a piece of muck, then asked disdainfully, ‘Where did they find you, then?!’

Sometimes you’re taken into makeup in a separate room, where a woman tries to make you look more aesthetically pleasing; sometimes the makeup lady just pops her head round the green room door and says ‘You’re fine’ or powders your nose.

Huge Nose.JPG

Then, before you know it, it’s showtime! You’re taken up to the studio with the other guests. The presenters generally say hi then, and you’re seated in a specific place. The studio is always quiet with no windows, and sometimes you can see yourself on the screens and/or the autocue on the camera.

When the presenter starts talking to you, time speeds up. You try and put your point across succinctly and articulately, without interrupting anyone, but it’s all a bit of a blur. If you’re lucky, you can see the questions she’s going to ask on the autocue or her clipboard, so have a few seconds to think about the answer. Usually if I get nervous, I sip the water they put out for guests on the table.

However, almost as soon as you start, the segment’s over and you’re being escorted back to the green room to collect your bag. These days, I check Twitter as soon as I get back to my phone, to see what the reaction to my appearance is. Then, if you’re lucky, you get a taxi home and speak to your friends, who have watched you on live TV.

So to finish, here I am on BBC Breakfast ten years ago, talking about Fawlty Towers while wearing my favourite green dress. I didn’t realise the camera could see me sitting on my leg!

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 28

Me: 12st 5.6lbs (total loss in 28 days: 8.6lbs)

I’m back on the wagon and am determined to stay on!

John: 14st 5lbs (total loss in 28 days: 2.5lbs)

John has fallen off the wagon and seems determined to stay off!

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!

Why I legally changed my name five times

I was born with the name Ariane Sherin ________, and spent my first 18 years desperate to get rid of my birth surname. I’m not going to tell you what it was, because there’s zero point in changing your name if you’re only going to tell people the old name, and also because it was embarrassing and you’ll laugh. I got teased the whole way through school, because my surname sounded hilarious with my first name if pronounced a certain way. It was also English, and coupled with the foreign names of Ariane and Sherin it sounded really odd.

Baby Garden[Me as Ariane Sherin something-or-other.]

That wasn’t the only reason I wanted to change my surname, though. It was my dad’s name, and he’d been violent and abusive to me throughout my childhood. So by cutting off his name, it felt as though I were shedding my first 18 years and becoming the autonomous, happy, independent girl I had always wanted to be.

I decided to add an ‘e’ onto the end of Sherin because I thought it looked more symmetrical with Ariane that way. It also made it clearer that the name was pronounced ‘Shu-reen‘ rather than Sherrin. The thought of being Ariane Sherine made me feel like a Bond girl, and I dreamed of the day when I could legally change it.

As luck would have it, on my 18th birthday (3rd July 1998) I was temping as a receptionist in a London firm of solicitors called Dibb Lupton Alsop (try saying that quickly when you pick up the phone!). Clients would occasionally come in to sign things, and I would have to phone the solicitor upstairs and ask him to come down and ‘do a swear’.

For most people, these were pre-internet days, so instead of just going online, I’d had to visit a legal stationery shop and procure a blank document called a statutory declaration. I filled it in using a gel pen and took it in with me on my birthday. Then I phoned upstairs and asked the solicitor if he’d come down and ‘do a swear’. He duly came down, and asked, ‘Where’s the client?’

‘I’m the client!’ I replied proudly, and produced my statutory declaration. ‘It’s my 18th birthday and I want to change my name.’

‘Very well,’ he said, looking baffled, and witnessed my signature before stamping the document. In under two minutes, I had divorced my family lineage for good, and could now be Ariane Sherine forever.

That was the idea, anyway – but sometimes life doesn’t work out that way. I did, however, legally remain Ariane Sherine for the next 15 years.

Me and Dad.jpg[Me and Dad in 2009. I was still Ariane Sherine; he was Dr something-or-other.]

Then the Atheist Bus Campaign happened. I got a shit ton of hate mail from loopy religious fanatics, and had a nervous breakdown. After three years of mental illness, I was still too scared to re-emerge in public life, so I thought that changing my name again (my whole name this time) might make me feel safer, as the crazies would be less likely to be able to find me.

‘You’re not to change your name again!’ my mum said sternly. ‘You’ve already changed it once. I’m not letting you change it a second time!’

Bear in mind that I was nearly 33 years old at this point, but my mum always thought she knew best.

‘I want to change it so no one can find me,’ I protested.

‘Then you can change it back to the name you started with,’ she snapped. ‘It’s a perfectly good name!’

Reader, it wasn’t a perfectly good name. There was nothing perfect or good about it.

Finally, as a compromise, I acquiesced and told my mum that I’d change it to two names that were already in our family. The fact that I hated both of these names wasn’t really a consideration – as far as I was concerned, I was still going to be Ariane Sherine professionally and personally, so would only have to give my legal name for official documents.

So I changed my name a second time – this time by deed poll, using an online service. Unfortunately, as I’d been in such a rush and hadn’t given the new name much thought, I didn’t realise that I’d accidentally given myself the most horrendous spoonerism! Everything about my new legal name was embarrassing and wrong.

Then I fell out big time with my mum a couple of years later, and could no longer bear having two family names as my legal name. It felt as though, in being forced by my mum to change my name to something I was unhappy with and remain nominally linked to my family, I’d fallen back into the trap of their coercive control.

So I chose a beautiful name that I loved – which, for the very first time, was a name I had decided upon myself. Even my daughter’s name had been a compromise with her dad. This was different: it was wonderful to feel able to rename myself, and I felt truly empowered. So I changed my name for a third time, by deed poll again.

I didn’t feel as though the new name suited me, because after 35 years of being Ariane Sherine, I couldn’t get my head around being called something entirely different. But that was OK – at least I didn’t feel embarrassed or get awful flashbacks of abuse while giving my legal name to people.

So that was it: my beautiful new name, forever.

It was at this point that I started running into problems. I applied for a new passport in my third new name. It had been perfectly easy getting a passport after the first two name changes, but now the passport authorities were getting suspicious. They sent me a letter with a long list of demands:

  • that I write them a statement explaining why, when and how I’d changed my names
  • that I send them all the original name change documents
  • that I provide an original copy of my birth certificate
  • that I change my name with a massive long list of government organisations, including but not limited to the DVLA (I had never driven), the NHS and the DWP – and that I provide proof that all these organisations had changed my name on their records.

Well! That taught me a lesson. It was a bureaucratic nightmare that took me almost six months and eight correspondence exchanges to fix. It was also a race against time, as I had booked a non-refundable trip to take my daughter to see my friend KJ in the Netherlands that Christmas. If I didn’t have my passport, I wouldn’t be able to go. Thankfully it arrived after five months, just when I’d given up hope of ever leaving the country again!

My next problem occurred a year later. My dad had gotten me an American passport (yup, we say ‘gotten’) just before my 18th birthday, as he thought it was important for me to have one. I’d never been to America as I didn’t like flying, and had sort of forgotten in practice about being American.

Anyhow: I discovered to my horror that America is one of only two nations (the other is Eritrea) that ask you to file a tax return every year, even if you were born abroad and have never even visited the States. It was a terrifying realisation: I’d been meant to file a tax return annually since I was 18, and I hadn’t! 18 whole years later, I was in the shit. Don’t mess with the IRS…

I needed to sort this out, and quickly, before I got into trouble. Unfortunately, my American passport had expired and was still in my very first name. In order to get a first-time social security number and pay my taxes, I had to go down to the US embassy with all my name change documents and explain why I’d changed my name three times.

Fortunately, I got a lovely woman. She examined my name change documents, and said ‘We would never have accepted these.’

I gulped.

Then she said, ‘But as the British government have accepted them, we will in this instance. Are you planning to change your name again?’

‘Oh, no!’ I replied fervently. ‘No no no no no no no. Definitely not.’

She raised an eyebrow, and said in a deadpan drawl, ‘Why stop?!’

Long story short: I got a new US passport, paid an accountant £1,000 to do a tax ‘amnesty’ with the US government, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

And then I got married in America five months later, and got to visit the beautiful country for the first time.

2

I wanted more kids with my new husband, but had experienced having a different surname from my daughter since she was born – and it was (and still is) crappy. She is white, I am brown and everyone thinks I’m her au pair, which is compounded by our different surnames. I even need a letter from her dad to take her out of the country, which boils my piss as this just isn’t the case the other way around.

So, with a very heavy heart, I changed my surname for the fourth time – to my husband’s surname, Nunn. I didn’t like the name but I wanted us both to have the same name as our future kids.

Now, there is a certain irony in me being A Nunn. But now we come to another moment of blessed relief – my marriage only lasted a year (and produced no kids). It was so short that, though I signed the deed poll, I never got around to changing the name on my passport. This name change, therefore, was easily reversible, so normally I only have to tell people and organisations I’ve changed my name twice rather than five times.

But I have written this whole story down because (a) it’s hopefully moderately interesting – after all, what kind of weirdo changes their name five times?! and (b) if I run into trouble in the future, I can refer people to it.

As for you? Please call me Ariane Sherine.

ArianeSherinePassport

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 18

Me: 12st 10.2lbs (total loss in 18 days: 4lbs)

This is very demoralising but I am going to lose weight today. I need to accept and like myself, and that will be far easier if my weight is in the normal BMI.

John: 14st 1.5lbs (total loss in 18 days: 6lbs)

John Bon.jpeg

John is well and truly trouncing me! But it’s not over until the fat lady sings…

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, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!