Why my daily blog is going weekly

Sorry to all you lovely regular readers, but this blog is now going weekly because my life is insane (in a good way) at the moment. To give you an example, on just one afternoon this week, my schedule goes:

2pm: Job interview for great job I really want (fingers, toes and eyes crossed)

3.30pm: Meet the very funny Jon Holmes and record his comedy podcast The The One Show Show (which may well jeopardise my chances of ever being on The One Show again)

6pm: Watch my daughter’s drama school play Beauty and the Beast (she’s a bit grumpy as she wanted to play Belle but has the tiny part of Bookseller. At least she’s not the Beast!)

7.15pm: Dinner with friend I haven’t caught up with properly for over ten years (I’m cooking)

Other things I’m doing this week: interviewing the wonderful Richard Osman and Emma Gannon (separately) for my next book How to Live to 100; genning up for job interview and having hair and eyebrows done and laying clothes out and ironing them (of course); pitching a load more Daily Mash stories; ferrying my daughter back and forth to drama school (four whole hours of travelling per day!); making my daughter’s packed lunches plus breakfasts and dinners; shopping for dinner with friend; watching three episodes of The One Show in preparation for Jon’s podcast; etc etc.

So pulling blog posts from my overloaded brain and typing them up is quite tricky with all that going on. But I have really enjoyed these seven weeks of blogging daily. Thank you for reading and I hope you’ll check in here once a week from now on.

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What the hell I do all day

Right now I don’t have a job. I haven’t had a job since our whole digital department was made redundant in February, and I miss the sense of purpose it gave me. If you have a job, hold onto it with your mucky paws and dig your grubby fingernails in and don’t let it go, because being unemployed is shit.

I had a job interview two weeks ago about a permanent writing job in Switzerland. I had my hair and nails done, wore my smartest clothes and managed not to joke that it was the ‘Swiss role’. I thought the interview went well, but the agency never contacted me again. I only found out I hadn’t got the position through receiving an alert for the relisted job. Bang goes my plan for escaping Brexit!

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Being ‘freelance’ sucks, but I don’t just sit on my arse all day. No: I fill my time with a delightful cornucopia of activities. These generally include:

1. Calling my eight-year-old daughter. She’s currently on holiday with her dad. It is manifestly unjust that she gets a summer holiday and I don’t, but I love her to infinity, so it’s fine. Her telephone manner is a mixture of bored, disdainful and dutiful, and when she says ‘Love you!’ it actually means ‘I want to get off the phone now!’. I miss her so desperately my heart is aching from nine days without her. Roll on Monday.

Lily teeth gap

2. Going to the gym. It’s literally around the corner, but it takes me hours to motivate myself into going, because exercise is painful and wrong. The gym is great for people-watching though, and inspired me to write this, so it’s not all bad.

3. Writing blogs. These are getting trickier as I run out of anecdotes! This is day 37 of this blog, and unless I fill it with traumatic stuff, it’s going to be difficult to continue in this vein for much longer. I have loads of juicy celebrity stories but (a) I’d probably get sued, and (b) I’d never work in this town again (not that I’m really working now, but you get me). This is why you’re reading about what I do all day, not the time I had hot sex with Alan Titchmarsh and his selection of reappropriated gardening equipment. (This is a joke!)

4. Emailing my friends and patrons (same thing really). Rik is my top-tier patron so that’s why I started sending him lots of emails, but I reckon I would now anyway as he’s great. He’s incredibly funny and produced this selection of inappropriate children’s book ideas (below), plus he very kindly sent me a Paperchase gift card when I was feeling down about the Swiss role. I’m lucky to have him.

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5. Writing HOW TO LIVE TO 100, my next book. I’m co-writing it with David Conrad, a consultant in public health, so he sends me big chunks of scientific research and I add jokes and format them into entertaining and funny chapters. We’re just over halfway through, and it’s exciting seeing the book take shape.

6. Re-labelling my Demerara sugar jars, because I kept opening them and snacking.

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This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Sammy and Jelly, Charlie Brooker, Mary and Tim Fowler, Steve Richards, Alan Brookland, Mark Ormandy, Oliver Vass, Keith Bell, John Fleming, Mark Bailey, Rebekah Bennetch, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Aragorn Strider, Lucy Spencer, Dave Nattriss, MusicalComedyGuide.com, Mark White, Dave Cross, Graham Nunn, David Conrad, Rob Turner, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

If you enjoyed this blog, please check out my songs at arianexmusic.com and support me on Patreon from just £1 a month, and you’ll get to read a lot more of my writing.

 

 

A Sunday Times travel trip, and a shocking revelation

No word from Richard Dawkins about yesterday’s blog, despite my tagging him on Twitter. I suspect he has muted me and is presently sticking pins in a voodoo doll of my image. Anyhow, on to today’s true story…

One sunny day in June 2010, I was on my way to Geneva, on my third travel trip for the Sunday Times. It was a walking holiday in the French Alps, and I wasn’t much of a walker. I was also having a full-scale nervous breakdown, permanently trembling and worrying about being killed, thanks to running the Atheist Bus Campaign and receiving an Inbox full of hate mail. Two months later, my mental state would grow so dark that I would no longer be able to continue working, and would start frequenting suicide forums instead. But until that point, I struggled on.

That day, in addition to my acute anxiety, I was also worrying about flying. I hate flying, and even though the Sunday Times had sent me on a fear of flying course the previous September and I desperately wanted to travel, I couldn’t quite rid myself of my irrational fear of planes. (Read my quite fun piece on flying here, or just the quite fun first paragraph if you can’t get past the paywall.)

My boyfriend at the time, who I was deeply in love with, accompanied me to Gatwick, and I sat nervously with him in the airport. Suddenly, he started crying big tears. ‘Oh baby!’ I said, stroking his face, full of emotion, ‘I don’t want to leave you either!’

‘No, it’s not that,’ he replied.

‘What is it then?’ I asked, confused.

‘I’m thinking about my ex,’ he replied, dabbing at his eyes. ‘I dropped her off here a few years ago when she went away for a long time.’

So that was nice.

But I had bigger problems: I had a whole world of fear and depression in my head, and had to get on the plane. It was only a short flight to Geneva – less than two hours’ duration – but I was still terrified.

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[An easyJet plane. I didn’t find flying in it so easy.]

Eventually I boarded the small easyJet aircraft, and settled into an aisle seat halfway down, next to a middle-aged man. Hoping to distract myself from the prospect of my impending death in a fireball, I tentatively struck up a conversation with him.

He was lovely and happy to chat: I remember that he reassured me about the safety of the plane, and showed me pictures of his kids. I showed him a picture of my boyfriend and told him how much I loved him (my boyfriend, not the middle-aged man. That would have been a bit forward).

‘Why are you going to Geneva?’ he asked.

‘I’m covering a walking holiday for the Travel section of the Sunday Times,’ I told him.

‘Oh wow,’ he answered. ‘That’s very cool. I’ll look out for your write-up.’

‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘How about you? Why are you going to Geneva?’

‘I’m on my way to a conference for work,’ he replied. So far, so dull.

‘What do you do?’ I asked.

‘I’m in armament sales,’ he said breezily.

Armament sales? This lovely man was an arms dealer!

I gulped, and tried to recover my composure. ‘And are you going to the conference alone?’

‘Oh no,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘Pretty much everyone else on this plane is going, except you!’

I WAS ON A PLANE FULL OF ARMS DEALERS! I started freaking out even more inside, thinking the plane might be a target (for whom exactly, peace activists? I hadn’t really thought this through) but thankfully my fears were unfounded.

I made it to Geneva in one piece, and was met at the airport and driven to the location by the organiser of the trip. However, I was so sick with anxiety the whole time I was there, I failed to do any walking. Feeling guilty and unprofessional, I wrote the piece as though I had, but I actually spent all my time in the chalet shaking and crying.

On my last day, the organiser drove me up a hill and took some photos of me pretending to walk.

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[Me in the Alps. I am smiling for the photograph. Inside, I was dying.]

The Sunday Times never ran the piece, though I’m not sure why. They said they were very happy with it; it was slated to run, and they accepted a pitch for a further piece, but sometimes features just don’t make it into print. I haven’t written for them since, though I’d like to.

I left the boyfriend two years later (he was still in love with his ex, and probably is to this day) and never really got over my fear of flying.

I also never met another arms dealer, to my knowledge – though if they’re all as nice as the bloke on the plane, I wouldn’t mind.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Sammy and Jelly, Charlie Brooker, Mary and Tim Fowler, Steve Richards, Alan Brookland, Mark Ormandy, Oliver Vass, Keith Bell, John Fleming, Mark Bailey, Rebekah Bennetch, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Aragorn Strider, Lucy Spencer, Dave Nattriss, MusicalComedyGuide.com, Mark White, Dave Cross, Graham Nunn, David Conrad, Rob Turner, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

If you enjoyed this blog, please check out my songs at arianexmusic.com and support me on Patreon from just £1 a month, and you’ll get to read a lot more of my writing.

 

 

 

My first ever (technically illegal) job

On Twitter recently, there was a trend for people to list five jobs they’d had. I’ve had some truly crazy jobs – and that’s before we get to TV sitcom writing, journalism and broadcasting. Here’s my tweet:

My first ever job as far as HMRC are concerned was being a cleaner at McDonald’s in 1996, aged 16, which I wrote about for the Guardian in 2008. But a year before that, in 1995 when I was 15, my dad employed me for six weeks.

My dad was often a physically violent, emotionally abusive, utterly deranged monster. I still have regular dreams (nightmares, really) about escaping from him and my mum, running from the house and never looking back.

But he could also be kind, funny and encouraging – and he and my mum were always very generous with money. So when I couldn’t get a job aged 15, he agreed to ’employ’ me for £4 an hour, writing sticky labels for videos.

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[Dad and me in 1982, when I was 18 months old. I was slightly older than this when I wrote the video labels.]

My dad taught at the University of Westminster (which was called the Polytechnic of Central London for the first half of his career). He was Course Leader or Lecturer on each of three degree courses – Film & Television, Media & Communication Studies and Journalism – and it doesn’t take a Freudian to point out that these are all the areas I ended up going into as a writer. Excuse me while I get the brain bleach!

Dad lectured several future celebrities, a couple of whom I now know – Charlie Brooker and Jon Ronson – and I ended up going to the same university for my own first degree (a BA in Commercial Music). Sadly or happily though, depending on how you look at it, Dad didn’t give me any contacts in the media, and he didn’t help me get into university either. I had to graft and do all the hard work myself. I got into television aged 21 after entering a BBC scriptwriting competition I found in a leaflet in HMV, and got into journalism at the same age after applying to do work experience at the NME.

When I was a kid, Dad would occasionally take me into work with him, and I once disrupted a lecture aged four by screaming ‘Daddyyyyy!’ after I got my leg stuck in a chair. My dad had to stride down the theatre aisle and rescue me in front of hundreds of laughing students.

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[Me aged four. My parents were not the best at framing photos.]

Anyhow, my dad had amassed what I believe is technically called a ‘shit ton’ of video tapes. For over a decade, he’d illegally taped films off the telly to show in his seminars – every day, he circled all the films he wanted to record in the Guardian TV guide – but all these black cassettes were in blank cardboard VHS cases with yellow Post-it notes on.

Post-it notes aren’t very sticky after a while, as I’m sure you know, so my dad wanted me to transfer the information on them to proper white adhesive labels to stick on the sides of the videos. He could have done it himself – he certainly had lovely neat, precise handwriting. But it was a menial and boring chore, so he delegated it to me, even though my handwriting was very scrappy indeed. And he actually paid me 25p more per hour than the £3.75 I subsequently got at McDonald’s for cleaning toilets!

So I spent the summer I turned 15 holding a squeaky marker pen in the Film & Television department of my dad’s university, hunched over a roll of sticky labels, writing titles like ‘The 39 Steps (1935, Alfred Hitchcock, 86m).’ It was very dull, but school was very dull too, and at least I got paid for this.

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[Me aged 14, when I didn’t have any jobs at all. I did, however, have a horrible bag.]

My dad was forced to retire from the university in 2003 when he turned 65. It was truly sad to watch, as he was crushed by not feeling needed anymore. Ironically, it was a bit like the film About Schmidt, as Dad kept on going into the building unpaid until he was told he was no longer welcome. He threw himself into researching his family genealogy for the last 13 years of his life instead – I think it was a suitably academic task that made him feel needed again.

Still, I bet somewhere in a dusty library in the University of Westminster’s Film & Television department are several thousand illegal videotapes of films off the telly, recorded by my dad and labelled by 15-year-old me.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Sammy and Jelly, Charlie Brooker, Mary and Tim Fowler, Steve Richards, Alan Brookland, Mark Ormandy, Oliver Vass, Keith Bell, John Fleming, Mark Bailey, Rebekah Bennetch, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Aragorn Strider, Lucy Spencer, Dave Nattriss, MusicalComedyGuide.com, Mark White, Dave Cross, Graham Nunn, David Conrad, Rob Turner, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

If you enjoyed this blog, please check out my songs at arianexmusic.com and support me on Patreon from just £1 a month, and you’ll get to read a lot more of my writing.