Monday, 22 June 2015


Gandalf as Sherlock Holmes has grown grotesquely old, with bloodhound jowls and liver spots and wrinkles. He is sagging into the earth. One heartbreaking scene features the distant cliffs of Dover searing into sharp relief, behind Sir Ian McKellen's long-retired, nonagenarian detective. Was I over-thinking it, or did this symbolise not only the war that Britain had recently survived, but also the lifelong battle that Sherlock had won with himself? I can't say more without spoiling it. Go, see.
We all know that Sherlock's not real; and yet that he is as non-fictional as a novelist's invention can be. I didn't race to see it because I feared what it might make me hear about ageing. Because we're buggered and going down, and I'm not in any rush. After you.
But there is hope. Though I felt every creak of his knees, every gasp for oxygen, every un-shed tear and pang of longing, I blinked back into the light with a fierce awareness that being old is nowhere near as wretched as it is cracked up to be; as those so terrified of it that they butcher their tits and faces want us to believe.
We do know, because we were there, that being young wasn't all that. Drop-dead gorgeous 24/7, were you? Nor me.
Our state of mind reflects the state of our lives at any given moment. Pause for thought. When was it that the primary synonyms for 'happiness' became 'money', 'beauty' and 'fame'? Other cultures revere and defer to their elders. Ageing, in ours, is about invisibility. Embarrassment. Decline. 
Sherlock's message in this wrenching piece is simple. There is not much to fear. We will always be exactly who we are now. Just older. We will always be who we always were, within. We still rage, though we age. With the piling years, the unfathomable becomes clearer. It dawns on us, as it dawns on old Sherlock, that we've got to fix stuff. We must do so with haste and vigour, aware of the hourglass's emptying, of the closing of the circle, of the need to make amends. We must do right by those wronged. We must avoid, in the wherever beyond, the hell of regret. 

Thursday, 11 June 2015


A feature on the Absolute Radio breakfast show this week called for listeners who had appeared in TV commercials. It reminded me of the Pampers nappy ad which my firstborn and I shot for Saatchi & Saatchi, back when. I didn't seek the commission, they came looking: on Fleet Street, where they were hoping to find a genuine national newspaper journalist with a real-life baby. They found us.

The first question I was asked was 'What brand of nappies do you use?' I gave the right answer, evidently. Because this was to be what they called 'endorsement advertising', the Advertising Standards Authority rules did not allow us to be paid. We would receive 'payment in kind', I was informed. A year's worth of nappies. 

That was where the 'genuine' aspect of the arrangement ended. We shot the commercial over three days, first in a hired house in Teddington which was far too grand to be ours. The idea that a single-mum hack would be able to afford such a gaff was a joke. Then there were the stylists, who transformed me into someone I didn't recognise. I fancied myself as a bit of a rock chick in those days, but you'd never have known it from the look. I had a neat French plait down my back and the kind of make-up that rendered me almost nun-like. I had expensive taste in infantwear, too - not that you'd have known it from the cheap, primary-coloured garb into which they stuffed my little girl.

We shot days two and three at London Zoo, with mini friends from nursery as controls. The most priceless sequence took place back in the lab, where I stood pouring test tubes of unidentified blue liquid into cut-out squares of nappy padding. This one soaks it up completely, look, while this one's damp. 
Oh dear.

A month or so after the commercial began to air on high rotation, across Europe on MTV and various Euro-channels as well as in the UK, I went to Rome and Milan to cover some A-ha gigs. Where Morten, Mags and Pal got their own back. I didn't live it down for about ten years.

I ran into Morten not long ago, who couldn't wait to remind me of an experience I'd tried to forget.
'It proved to us,' laughed the Norwegian, 'That British television really is crap.'