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!)

Why I had the world’s most embarrassing parents

Every kid thinks their parents are embarrassing, but I’m fairly sure that mine actually were the most embarrassing parents in the world during my childhood. Here are my reasons:

The bottle of wee

When I was about 11, my mum decided she would start fertilising her allotment with urine. There was therefore a bottle of urine in the tiny upstairs toilet that we were meant to wee into instead of weeing into the loo.

(The actual loo was for poos only, and thank heavens my mum didn’t decide to fertilise the allotment with human excrement too, though I wouldn’t have put it past her. Instead, she made my dad and I go to the local riding stables at the weekends to shovel horse poo into bags, which she then fertilised the allotment with instead. What fun!)

Anyhow, I didn’t really mind giving a urine sample every time I needed to pee. In the long list of my parents’ parenting fails, it was pretty near the bottom.

What I did mind was that, one of the few times I got someone from school to agree to come round, my mother asked the girl pleasantly, ‘If you go to the toilet, please could you pee into the plastic bottle provided?’

Of course, the girl promptly went back to school and informed everyone she’d been made to wee into a bottle at mine. This got translated into ‘Don’t go round Ariane’s house – her mum’s taking the piss!’

As if I hadn’t already been bullied enough…

bottle-148301_640.png

The clapped-out old banger

My parents owned a filthy white 1960s Peugeot 404 that didn’t so much glide as bounce, wheeze and sputter down the road. It was the sort of dirty where people would write ‘Clean Me’ with their finger in the grime.

The car was basically half-dead and would always refuse to start, so each time my mum collected me from primary school, she would have to open the bonnet, then whack the fan with an ancient wooden tennis racket in order to get the engine going.

Cue snotty small children boasting ‘My dad has a Mercedes-Benz. Your dad can’t even afford a proper car! Or a proper tennis racket.’

When the second-hand (or more like tenth-hand) Peugeot finally packed up for good, my dad bought another second-hand car: a Saab 900. It was so long, it was impossible to park, and my dad would go round trying and failing to reverse into parking spaces while swearing under his breath in German. (He used to live in Germany, and possibly thought it was more acceptable to swear in front of small children in a language we couldn’t understand.)

peugeot [A Peugeot 404, though ours was much dirtier.]

Then there’s the small matter of the Nazi jeep my dad built in our garage, though I’ll save that for the memoir.

The terrible clothes

Looking back, my dad’s clothes really weren’t that bad. The main cringe factor for me was that he always, always wore a black or navy corduroy Lenin cap. I have no idea why, because he had hair up until the very end.

The kids at school would tease me because he wore the cap, and call him a ‘gippo’ (though not to his face, because he was 6’4″ and prone to violence and would have ended them).

He also always wore a white vest. He had the slightly excruciating habit of scratching his skin until it bled, so his white vests were always covered in faded brown bloodstains.

Oh, and in the late 1980s he went through a phase of wearing bright fluorescent trainers… with a dark suit jacket and black trousers. It was not the best look.

180001

My dad’s Unmanageable Penis Syndrome (and other embarrassing habits)

I don’t think my dad actually ever wore deodorant. I certainly never saw him apply any. He always smelt of soap, so he did wash under his arms, but the soapy smell was mingled with a kind of musky body odour. I’m not sure he ever showered either.

I didn’t mind my dad’s body odour – it was at least fresh, and I thought he smelt quite nice, certainly better than the overpowering aftershave of some dads – but I did mind his other personal hygiene habits.

At home, I was always walking in on him washing his willy in the bathroom sink (there was no lock on the bathroom door). I would back out apologising as he swore and muttered. I reckon he used the sink for all his washing – no idea why.

When driving on the school run, with three other girls from school sitting in the back of the car, my dad would fuss with his willy through his trousers. He wouldn’t actually take it out, thank the good Lord, but he would prod it around and have a good old rummage.

My parents would walk around naked occasionally (they were in their teens and twenties in the 1960s) so I have the unfortunate knowledge that my dad was rather well-endowed (bit of sick in my mouth here), and I guess his trousers were always too tight for this reason.

I would sit there cringing as he manhandled himself in front of the girls from school. He was presumably shunting his willy into a less constricted position (my best male friend refers to this euphemistically as ‘comfort issues’).

I think perhaps my dad should have claimed Scottish heritage, invested in a kilt and gone commando. I would genuinely have rather he’d done that than foraged in his crotch all morning, as it was the bane of my life – and that’s before we get to him proudly letting out loud farts in the street.

bagpipe-349717_640

And the rest…

This blog post would be very long if I listed all my parents’ cringeworthy habits, so I’ll leave it there. If your parents did anything that can rival mine, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 26

Me: 12st 6.4lbs (total loss in 26 days: 7.8lbs)

Oops…

John: 14st 6.5lbs (total loss in 26 days: 1lb)

I have no idea what John ate yesterday to cause a 3lb gain. My guess is an entire elephant.

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 time I wrote a rude greeting card, aged 7

I was seven years old, and at primary school in Willesden Green, North-West London. There, my brown skin didn’t mark me out as different, as most of the kids in my class were varying shades of brown. 

One afternoon, I was seated next to a boy from Ghana called Kwame. When I say ‘from Ghana’, I don’t mean he was ethnically African but actually from London like me, but that he had emigrated from Ghana recently, and didn’t speak much English.

The teacher handed out pieces of blank white A4 paper, coloured crayons, and misshapen lumps of white wax. 

“Today you are going to be making a card for the person next to you,” she announced. “You’re to fold the paper in half, design the front of the card with the crayons, then write a message inside using the lump of wax.”

This seemed a pointless exercise. After all, the wax didn’t show up on the white paper, so it wouldn’t matter what I wrote inside. I could write anything. 

And then I smiled mischievously to myself. I had heard other kids talking about something called ‘sex’ in the playground. I didn’t know what it meant, I just knew that it was rude. 

The lump of wax was heavy and unwieldy. Inside my card, I wrote:

Dear Kwame

I hope you are well.

Ariane

PS Sex.

I sat back, pleased with my invisible handiwork.

Then I heard the teacher say, “Now swap cards with the person next to you, and go over the inside of the card with felt tip to make the writing appear.”

I tried to stay calm. It was okay, I told myself: Kwame couldn’t read much English, and even if he did know a little, he wouldn’t know what ‘sex’ meant. I was safe.

Kwame and I swapped cards. I can’t remember what his said. I just remember freezing as the teacher walked over.

“What does your card say, Kwame?”

Kwame read it out haltingly. “Dear Kwame – I hope you – are well. Ariane – PS –”

And then he stopped, frowning.

The teacher looked over Kwame’s shoulder at the card. She silently snatched it from him and strode from the room without a word, the door swinging shut behind her.

“What does ‘sex’ mean?” I asked suddenly, panicked, to no one in particular. “I wrote ‘sex’ in my card. What does it mean?”

“UMMMM!” said the girls in my class. It wasn’t a sound that conveyed uncertainty: in the 80s in Britain, “UMMMM” was a noise that meant “now you’re for it”.

“You better pray, girl,” one of the Caribbean girls said. “You better get down on your knees and pray to the Lord that she isn’t telling your mother right now, girl!”

I started to tremble. Maybe I could say it had been a mistake?

But how could I have written ‘sex’ in error? And now I’d told the entire class that was what I’d done. They were right to say “UMMMM”: I was in big trouble.

But when the teacher came back, she didn’t mention anything about the card, or why she’d left the class for so long. She merely said “I’m going to bring round the box so you can put your materials back in.”

I thought perhaps she’d phoned my parents, but when my mother picked me up from school, she didn’t say anything about the incident either. Nothing was ever said, and for several years after that I was none the wiser as to what sex actually was.

As if not content with writing a rude word in the card, I also stole the lump of wax, as I was going through a kleptomaniac phase. I didn’t want to be discovered, though, so I hid it in my knickers and walked home in a slightly strange way. My mum asked why I was waddling. I said there was no reason, and tried to waddle a little less.

I was a very strange child.

23

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 12

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

I need to make it to 12st 6.5lbs by Tuesday to get my Slimming World award (so that it will register as 12st 7.5lbs on their scales with my clothes on).

John: 14st 4.5lbs (total loss in 12 days: 3lbs).

John is doing well!

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 for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)

Why I am not a nice girl

There were four Asian girls in my class at secondary school, but I was far and away the loudest and most exhibitionist. So when our class put on a play about the Mughal Empire (an ancient empire in South Asia), I was chosen to play the Emperor Akbar.

I remember sitting on a throne (aka a chair), and six other girls sitting cross-legged at my feet, pretending to be my wives. Our adviser on all things Mughal was a teacher called Mrs Chopra, who studied the scene and announced, ‘Akbar needs a hookah!’

hookah

[A hookah pipe, used for smoking shisha.]

Never one to miss an opportunity for a joke, I quipped ‘But Mrs Chopra, I already have six wives!’

Our stern teacher Miss Buckley rounded upon me with a fearsome glare, and replied ‘Ariane, I thought you were a nice girl. You are not a nice girl!’

If I ever write a memoir, Not a Nice Girl will be the title.

Ariane1991[Me, aged 11. Not so nice, apparently.]

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 9

I have a confession to make: I’m on tour and was offered a meal at the pub I was gigging at. I had scampi, chips and peas. It was so nice!

But I have procured a pair of analogue weighing scales from the very nice elderly man I am staying with, and they claim I am now 12st 7lbs. I am VERY dubious about this, especially as they’re on carpet (I couldn’t find a hard surface). Nonetheless, let’s go with it until I get back to my usual scales tomorrow.

Me: 12st 7lbs (total loss in nine days: 7.2lbs)

John: 14st 8.75lbs (total gain in nine days: 1.25lbs)

I’m not sure John is even trying any more…

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 for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)

The much-fabled sleepover

Since I bought her a new bed with an extra pull-out mattress, my daughter has been asking me for a sleepover. She asked if she could have one with her best friend Ella, but to be honest I think she’d have happily accepted a sleepover with Mummy Pig or Mr Tumble if it meant she could show off her Harry Potter bedroom.

Lily Buddy bed

Lily desk

Last night was the big night, and I think it went quite well, though kids in real life never say ‘Darling Mummy, thank you so much for making my sleepover so special! I love you completely. Take all my pocket money and enjoy a spa day on me!’. You’re more likely to get a grunt and a request for Haribo for breakfast.

ella-signs

The planning that went into this sleepover should not be underestimated. I cleaned the house from top to toe, worried Ella might tell her class I’m a Scummy Mummy (my present title of Fattest Mum at School is depressing enough already). Like the middle-class health-conscious parent I am, I also bought an array of nutritious foods for the girls, as seen below:

snacks

After prepping for the big night, I had to ferry both children halfway across London to my newly-clean house. They were engrossed in my daughter’s iPad and barely registered my presence. This behaviour continued throughout the evening, with vociferous protests when I made them put the iPad down to eat their nourishing dinner. (It was fish fingers, chips and beans. Told you: I’m practically Gillian McKeith.)

However, they were far from satisfied with the hearty food I provided: the fish fingers were “not breadcrumby enough”, the chips were “too soft” and the vegan Magnums were met with a scornful “dark chocolate is yuk!”. When I furnished the girls with bottled water, I was informed in outraged tones that, because of my purchasing decision, “sea creatures are dying!”. (This didn’t stop them asking for breadcrumby fish fingers though.)

When not glued to the iPad, the girls painted each other’s nails:

lily-nails.jpg

Plaited each other’s hair:

lily-plait-1

lily-plait-3

lily-plait-2

And tried on necklaces I’d made, but as hair crowns:

jewellery

A few hours later, the battle of the bedtimes commenced. The girls wanted to stay up until midnight. I was wrecked from all the cleaning, and wanted to go to sleep at 9pm. ‘It’s not Cinderella, you know!’ I insisted. ‘Nothing exciting happens at midnight, you just get more and more tired!’

In the end, they fell asleep at the preposterous time of 3am. 3am! (I was only informed of this in the morning, as I went to sleep well before midnight.)

All in all, the sleepover was rather exhausting. I think the girls enjoyed themselves; they were very cute. But if they want to repeat the experience, I might have to insist on that pocket money spa day.

MY DAILY STATS

Weight: 12st 11.4lbs (goal weight: 7st 11lbs)

Waist: 36″ (goal: 25″)

Bust: 42″ (goal: 32″)

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.