Thursday, 26 March 2015

Through a Labyrinth of Lists

I am afraid I am a bit cynical about what can change a person. I don't, for example, think that you can mould another human being much beyond primary school age. The things that as a parent you may shove into your offsprings' heads (only one each obviously!) are absorbed sponge-like until secondary school beckons and you cease to be the most important thing in their world.

Likewise I think that any attempt to mould a spouse, prospective or already acquired, into anything other than what they are is bound to be fruitless. What does change people, in my experience, is circumstance. The throw of the dice. Fate.

By way of explanation, I alluded in my last blog to my beloved's dislike of lists, much to the amusement of my children who knew this in any case. I, of course, am 'woman of many lists' - I even have lists of lists! But the one with my beloved's name on it is never left on view. I have to sneak up on him with a request - in the singular please note - and if I am lucky and there is nothing more pressing (going to Booths for a sociable cruise round the aisles, cleaning Bertha the Land Rover, going to the pub or indeed anywhere that sells the irresistible combination of alcohol and good food) it may get done. I try not to put a timescale on the request either. Flights have to be booked only before the date we actually leave. You get my drift?

I am not faultless. I fail to prioritise - in fact, I should have lists headed "Do this or die" ie the most important stuff, "Do this or members of the family will be upset" - priority 2, "Do this or don't get paid" - work-related list, and finally "Do this because it is the little things that make a difference" and "Do this because you want to".  That would make lots of sense, I think.

But having digressed into the labyrinth of lists, the important thing is the way that circumstances change us. The three pivotal changes in my life took the form of meeting my beloved in January 1982 ('Don't you want me, baby' by the Human League was Number One), learning that number 1 daughter was profoundly deaf and the latest, being treated for cancer. Other things - utterly lovely, like all my beautiful children, and less lovely things, which we won't dwell on - changed my life for good or ill but they did not knock my world off its axis.

So these are the three things that have changed me and I am just learning to deal with the latest. I would like to think that I can make every moment count, put the important things front and centre, love my family and friends without prejudice or restraint, listen to my body and be the person I always hoped I would be. I am not sweating the small stuff, however much it may accumulate.

...Although all the small stuff will still be on a list somewhere...!

Postscript: I was looking for a picture of my beloved and our beautiful children to post but we haven't been together since September so that will have to wait until we reassemble in April. Then I found this one which is dawn over Burton Leonard - or 'armageddon sky' as I call it. But I may be turning into Fotherington-Thomas 'Hullo clouds, hullo sky'?

And finally, if you are wondering about the hair, I am no longer Sinead O'Connor or indeed Stuart Lancaster but I am not quite Annie Lennox - working on it though!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Sleepless in Siem Reap

Number one child and the Scouser 
are getting towards the end of their
amazing trip. Can't wait to have them
home! In the meantime...

Cupcakes, pancakes and fruit 
shakes. Batman Tuk Tuks, Jianzi, 
dollar massages. Baby Alligators. 

Welcome to Siem Reap.

Known as the gateway to Angkor 
Wat, Siem Reap is a big tourist 
destination. With treelined streets, 
a river and you know it's coming - 
French colonial buildings, it's a handsome
town filled to the brim with great
little cafes and the more schlocky Pub
Street for the younger, drink-fuelled

We arrived by the notorious night bus, in spite of having been warned of how 
dangerous it is by every single travel guide and blog I had found on the internet.

Why then, you ask, did you go on it?

Because someone convinced me that I was being a... cluck cluck. And I'm too 
easily riled.

Having been promised a spacious double bed, air con, free water and all the 
perks (am I sounding incredibly naive at this point?) we found ourselves in a 
vehicle which could have masqueraded as a sex parlour. And probably did. 
Dark red curtains and tiny cells not fit for a life-term convict, we found our bed 
directly under the engine at the very back of the bus. Air-con out of action. 
Hairs on the pillow. Shady stains on the mattress.

Relatively claustrophobic, having once had a complete paddy climbing the 
staircase to the Whispering Gallery at St Paul's Cathedral, I found myself 
breathing pretty short breaths in muggy air convinced that the mephitic 
fumes of the engine would probably kill me overnight. The corridor reaching 
our budget boudoir was so narrow, all passengers had to walk crablike. One 
escape route, with us at the back of the bus.

Currently agnostic, I cannot say I 'found God' on this journey but I did pray 
multiple times overnight when I was suspended in air or spooning the wall 
when the driver slammed the brakes down. (Being at the back, we were 
sideways on).

The Remedy
Sleep deprived with a rats nest on my head and desperate for a wee, we arrived at a sunny 6am in Siem Reap. At this point with no placable sarcasm apparent, Alex said:

"Well that was much better than the night bus in Laos!"

Genuinely. I wanted to kill him.

At least he didn't say 'What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger".

But food always cheers me up and two pancakes with berry compote, creme fraiche, maple syrup and bacon at Cafe Central did a grand job.

You know that I can't write a blog about Siem Reap and not talk about 
Angkor Wat. And whilst we took some incredible photos, they will probably 
look just like everybody else's - no matter how much time is spent editing 
them. So I will attempt to not to go into minute detail about every temple 
we saw but share the more entertaining bits. But prepare yourself for lots 
of photos, tough luck on that side of things.

At 4.30am, my favourite time of day to wake up, we took a tuk-tuk which 
we had negotiated down (good cop/bad cop routine is still working) to 15 
dollars for the day. We had decided to leave the best til last, so we 
maturely turned our heads to the left whilst passing Angkor Wat on the right.

First stop 5.30am

Baksei Chamkrong was our choice for the sunrise, an early 10th century 
Hindu temple which looked a little like an Apocalypto head-rolling 
sacrifical slide. Our driver got out his hammock and hanging it on his 
tuk-tuk, went back to sleep whilst we peered blankly into the dark at the 
very steep stairs we were standing in front of.

Having climbed to the top, whilst murmuring about health and safety 
hazards in a very British way, we sat and ate our breakfast of 
pineapple and mango whilst Alex listened to the bats that were 
chirping in the temple. I protected my hair with a sarong.

Breakfast time in the dark.
Having been to Petra in Jordan, the capabilities of what 
humans can do never ceases to amaze and when you 
stand amongst the faces of Bayon that awe and splendour really 
hits you. What was all the more special was that because all the 
tourists had flocked home after sunrise for breakfast, we were 
pretty much the only people there. Passing it a couple of hours 
later, it was like a sea of faces.

I pride myself with having a good vocabulary, but after seeing 
a couple of temples you do struggle for words to describe them. 
Rock. Stone. Carved. Sculptures. Buildings. Temples. Meh.

Alex bitterly disappointed me at Ta Prohm for refusing to be 
videoed pretending to be Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. He was 
never going to be Angelina Jolie but he could have been a very 
believable young Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones.

Later that day, we discovered the best cupcakes we had ever 
tasted at Blossom Cafe, so we ate lots of them. Though my 
sister is not a bridezilla, I still have to watch what I eat 
apparently so I am not a fat bridesmaid so I won't mention 
how many we had or how many times we visited in our 
week in Siem Reap.

Two of .... many!
Wednesday was a good day as it was a chance to 
see a face from the past - David and his wife Vina. 
Both his daughters are close friends of mine. They 
were both staying at a hotel a considerable upgrade 
from ours - the Victoria Angkor Resort which boasted 
a very nice swimming pool, those seriously cool old-
school elevators which you have to slide the door to 
close and a baby alligator pond. We had a bizarre 
moment when discussing my failure to break Hollywood 
and it materialised out that one of the few people I had 
met was his best friend from school. (The only person 
he knew in LA). It's a small world.

Another day at the Angkor Wat Archeological Site 
involved riding 'the Grand Loop' - 30km on mountain 
bikes. The ride was brisk as Scouser Wiggins likes a 
good pace. I almost crashed into several bins that 
were waiting to be recycled on the road. Then 
almost did it again on the way back.

Trusty Steeds
Neak Pean was an island temple accessed by 
a long causeway and the views were reminiscent 
of the end of the second Lord of the Rings, when 
Isengard is destroyed.

"Some of my kin look just like trees now, and 
need something great to rouse them; and they 
only speak in whispers." (Treebeard)

Spooky stuff.
Isengard /Neak Pean
Alex's birthday falls on Valentine's Day and 
we were in Siem Reap to celebrate it. We 
spent the day doing most of his favourite 
things. We started with a pancake breakfast 
then watched a film in the Green Leaf Book 
Cafe (An Extraordinary Theory of Everything - 
is it only me who bawled their eyes out the 
whole film?) We then had a brunch of more 
pancakes with Alex's favourite Mango Shake. 
Lunch and the early afternoon was spent with 
Alex watching the cricket and rugby on two 
screens at the same time. Then we went for a 
Dollar Massage.

Massage parlours are everywhere in Siem Reap 
- to relieve the weary loins of tourists traversing 
Angkor Wat. Most of them have the same deal - 
a dollar for a ten minute foot massage. Being 
generous, we decided to go for three dollars.

It was not a pleasant experience.

The man who was lathering globs of unlabelled 
cream on my feet and legs had elongated molars - 
aka vampire fang dentistry and was giggling 
tonelessly in a high pitched voice to his neighbour. 
His idea of massage was to smack my feet and legs 
then place his pudgy gargantuan hands on my little 
toes and pull them out of their sockets as if he was 
having a tug of war with the entire Japanese Sumo 
Wrestling Team. This he then repeated two other 
times, once every ten minutes.

1$ foot massage. You get what you pay for.
Insanely after our dinner at 'Genevieve's 
Restaurant' - for where else were we going 
to go for Alex's birthday (it's also the number 
2 restaurant in Siem Reap), we decided to 
go for another massage. This time I broke 
into hysterical giggles when both of them got 
into the downward dog position and put their 
hands on our groins, rubbing us in circular 
motion. The Khmer massage techniques are 
really not to be missed.

Then we watched Six Nations rugby well into 
the night with a few beers to help us along.

The Angkor Wat sunset was our last experience 
in Siem Reap before we took a bus and crossed 
the border to Bangkok. It was a marvel, worth 
waiting for. Alex took lots of pictures of the 
reflection of Angkor Wat in the lake whilst I made 
some friends.

Sunset at Angkor Wat

Making friends
Six weeks of travelling around Laos and Cambodia 
and it comes to the final thing we see to know that the 
crazy experiences we have been through have been 
worthwhile. That sitting under a bat-infested temple in 
the pitch black and watching the sun rise over Angkor 
Wat Archological Site made the entire trip worthwhile. 
There have been some incredibly unremarkable places. 
There have been some horrible, horrible bus journeys. 
There have been some gruesome, harrowing sights. 
There has been a lot of the views of the Mekong. That's 
all part and parcel of being a backpacker. But the 
majesty of being at Angkor Wat - and it only takes one 
time - leaves you feeling pretty special. That you've seen 
something that that old cliche 'once in a lifetime' truly 

A representation of 80% of photos taken.

Friday, 13 March 2015

The Greedy Thief and Mary Berry's One Bowl Method

I have been getting some stick from certain quarters about not writing a blog for a while. The reason for my blog-silence is because life for me has changed a lot recently - all to the good, I'm pleased to say - and with that has come quite a big mental adjustment.

During the eight or so months since the beginning of my diagnosis, it has been hard to think about anything but getting through the day. Indeed, my mantra has been, until recently, 'tomorrow will be better'. I call cancer the Greedy Thief because as well as all the obvious characteristics which are both inward and physical, and outward and visible - from nausea, flu-like symptoms and fatigue to hair loss and the drastic state of my toe nails with everything in between, there is also the mental aspect. The Greedy Thief takes over your mind.

So when you start to feel better and other parts of your life come back into focus, they jostle for position in your cancer-ridden brain.

First this took the form of not-joined-up-thinking, as they say in management-speak. I could only explain this to number 1 daughter in terms of the Mary Berry Victoria Sponge One Bowl Method. Here's how it goes... You put the butter, sugar, eggs, baking powder and flour into the mixer and switch on. A few moments later - having greased and lined two sandwich tins (in case you're following this recipe) you go back to the mixer. In the normal brain world, the bowl would contain sponge mixture but because my brain hasn't been joining things up in this way, in my bowl there are still butter, sugar, eggs, baking powder and flour. So the separate elements are there in my brain but they are not joining up.

Anyway, joining up seems to be happening a bit more now but there are a million things which I could not, and therefore did not, address which are now most definitely barking for attention. After months of not sweating the small stuff, there's a veritable mountain of small stuff to sweat.

Whilst I was poorly, I lay about a good deal more than usual and wrote lists. There is the bucket list on the blackboard wall in the downstairs loo of places I want to go - one done, four booked but dozens more to go. Then there is the secret list of things I would like my beloved to do (think diy not 50 Shades!) but I can't tell him about that because he is not List Man. If I write him a list he goes into meltdown and does none of the things on the list so I have to sneak up on him and give him one thing to do at a time (after 30 years of marriage I am getting subtle!)

Finally there is the domestic snagging list - the longest list of all. This is the result of going into each room and deciding what needs doing after living in this house for 27 years and being too busy with children and life to do much in the way of home maintenance. And now all these things are being done with the help of the lovely Andy (thank you Sue Wells!) and various other professionals including decorators and the marvellous plumber, Steve who was only slightly embarrassed to find a thong down the back of my office radiator and mighty relieved to discover it wasn't mine!

So I feel like I am at last catching at the coattails of life. Yes, I've been to Edinburgh and seen where beautiful number 4 daughter has lived since September. I am embracing number 2's wedding in November - via two other weddings along the way, at one of which I am honoured to be giving a reading - thanks so much Sam and Rachel and Oli and Emily. Number 1 is returning home from the Far East after her triumphant season finale in Call the Midwife and number 3 will be coming home next week with tons of washing and hopefully no facial hair (well, a mum can dream!) So life really is starting to go on and I am no longer stuck like a pooh stick lodged under a bridge.

Number 4 is running the Great North Run in September in aid of Cancer Research. I am so proud of her. If you would like to support her, go to

Call the Midwife... the Update!

Number One was on our screens on Sunday night in the season finale of Call the Midwife and although she blogged about this at the time of filming she has now updated her piece. Best of all for me, she is coming home from the Far East - to another acting job - of which more soon. And there will be a blog from me too - promise!  
Beehives, bouffants and sack 
dresses - a month in the life of the 
1950's - awesome.

Fat suits, faking labour and chinese 
dolls were a little more unexpected.

Though it is Call the Midwife.

Filming Call the Midwife was a 
fabulous whirlwind into one of the 
BBC's most successful television 
series' of the decade and 
appealingly dominated by a sexy, 
sassy female cast. So prim and 
proper on screen in starched 
uniforms and clicky lace-up heels, 
it was a little bewildering sitting in hair and makeup with Helen George (who 
plays Trixie) dressed glamorously with a fox fur stole wrapped around her neck 
at 6am in the morning.

And a little awkward at first, knowing she's going to be fake delivering your fake 
baby out of your fake tummy. A rather intimate moment to happen between two 

But I should be used to the strange world of acting by now.

Driving out of London and down leafy country lanes in Chertsey, Surrey to the 
film set, I was a little lugubrious due to the fact that Alex and I had been due to 
go on holiday that very day (which we postponed to enable me to film this role). 
I was also a little daunted for I was to have a labour rehearsal with the 
consultant midwife and a lesson in 1960s British Sign Language.


I've never given birth and even though I'm deaf, I am not fluent in sign - my 
modus operandi, communication wise, is certainly verbal. There was a lot to 
learn and it was important to get right.

I have also been traumatised by graphic delineations of labour by three wine-
fuelled ladies from Liverpool - you know who you are. Thank you for the
extraordinary detail. I will never forget it.

My family were also delighted that I was filming this particular series, not least
because there was the potential prospect of my meeting one of their favourite
stars - Miranda Hart. Coaxing and wheedlings from them for autographs from
the tall lady went no where - with extreme blackmail at one point when asked
 "in the name of charity". Suggestions that I invite her to join the Hackney
Rugby Ladies Team also strangely were forgotten.

Standing in my underwear in the trailer with Ralph Wheeler-Holes, the costume
designer, there was a mild moment of bafflement as, in spite of sending my
measurements ahead, nothing actually fit once I got into the fat suit. Whilst
adjusting the bulk of pennies laden in the crotch (to hold the baby bump down),
I asked whether this was par for the course.

"Of course, but most people's bust and hip sizes stay the same whereas yours
 seem to have expanded along with the baby."

Alex (my boyfriend) will never be using the tape measure again.

The perm mishap 
Once the hairdresser had said decidedly that I was not suited to ringlets, but
more to quaffs (think less Judy Garland, more Audrey Hepburn), I became a
'June Denton' faced with the prospects of bringing a child into a deaf world, or
a hearing world. June is torn between the baby being able to hear, but she not
being able to speak to it or vice versa - the baby being born deaf and therefore
living in a silent world. A cruel dilemma - accentuated by the fact that hearing
aids were not readily available and cochlea implants did not exist. A deaf person
could not learn to speak so easily without those resources and segregation and
discrimination were rife in society.

We are fortunate that life is not quite so hard for deaf people now.

Those who know me are familiar with the 'bubble bath' story - when I was little
my mum would sing nursery rhymes to me in the bath. And one day, in spite of
being born deaf, I started mouthing the words back to her.

"Twinkle, twinkle, little star."

It was a turning point in my mum's battle to teach me how to speak - even
though I had no concept of sound at the time, I understood communication and
lipreading was to become as familiar to me as being able to read and write. This
was in spite of the doctors telling her that I would never learn to speak and that
sign language was the only way in which interaction between mother and child
would work.

When I found out earlier this year that my mum had breast cancer, it was one of
the hardest things I have ever had to come to terms with. A few days before the
audition, I had a conversation with her, when she said that struggling with cancer
and chemo was better and easier than her discovery that I was born deaf.

It struck a blind nerve.

How could the tragedy of being diagnosed with cancer be remotely equivalent to
being born deaf?

Somehow, after long days of filming, I couldn't quite turn off the character of June
Denton. Her story. How will I feel when I am pregnant with my first child, facing
the possibilities of them being born deaf? How did my mum feel with the
predicament of, well me?

I'm sure as June Denton found out, that love holds the answer. What they are
doesn't matter.

So grunting, straining, covered in a sheen of fake sweat (and some real) I had my
first experience of pretending to give birth on Call the Midwife. And I have no
delusions that it is anything like the real thing. Genevieve wanted to look
reasonably sexy on camera, but it was not to be. There was also a little caginess
as I had heard that there had been several incidences of being peed or pooped
on by babies during filming.

Shouldn't there be a hazard sign for that?

The baby actually had no accidents and looked gorgeous - a tiny two month old
with jet black hair who had to be lathed in baby oil and fake blood and hidden
cunningly under a cloth between my legs. The baby's workload was considerably
lighter - 30 minutes of work with an hour's rest in between.

During those breaks, they used a fake baby - which happened to look Chinese.
Imagine my confusion when that popped out.

The final day of filming (for it is rarely chronological) was the most important
scene, where I would inevitably have to cry and simultaneously sign a long
monologue. A typical scene takes about three hours to film, and this was
probably going to take longer. Preparing for this had me in a dark place.
Trying to put myself in June Denton's shoes.

It's not an easy thing being deaf, and I know that more than most people. If it is
a burden, then I carry it most times without being aware of it. If it is a burden
and I am aware of it, then I carry it with pride and determination, therefore not
really feeling it. But June's grace in her deafness, her delight in the small victories,
her realisation that love can be conveyed without sound and without sound left me
with more confidence than before - that regardless of which way my children go in
the world, they will be loved and know they are loved.