Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Sticky Toffee Pudding

It has been a busy week.

Sometimes I wonder if we could be more busy, and I’m pretty sure that we couldn’t, and then a week like this turns up. There’s no time to blog... For heaven’s sake, there’s barely time to eat or sleep!

We work, and then we work some more. There is stuff to do, and then there are things. We are juggling projects. We are juggling life and projects and work and writing, and sometimes all of those things are the same thing.

Then we are asked to give interviews and commit to book signings and events, and suddenly the workload has to get condensed into just a little less time than we anticipated having.

There are high points, in the work and in the life.

We went to the dort’s grad show last weekend, and that was pretty spectacular. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. It was followed, fortuitously, by a comic-con in the very same city on the following day, so birds and stones and all that, but it was still three days when we weren’t ‘working’, so we’re catching up again.

This is by way of saying that I’m writing a blog on Tuesday night, right on the verge of going to bed, ahead of getting up with the husband at five o’clock tomorrow to see him off to Berlin for meetings while I tackle the end of a novel, and all because I’m a fan of a hashtag.

Tomorrow, or rather today, is Women Writers Wednesday blog day, also known as #wwwblogs on Twitter. We’re a vibrant, various bunch of women who write and blog, and share and retweet. I like it. I try to contribute and I like to read other women’s blogs and I recommend the ones that I enjoy. It’s all grist to the mill.

The last couple of weeks the lovely people at Women Writers have suggested that if we haven’t planned a blog we might want to write a story and share a recipe. Last week I complied. I enjoyed it.

Many of my regular readers know that I write about all sorts of stuff. If something’s on my mind I’m quite happy to talk about it. I’m a sharer. I don’t plan blogs much, so sharing a story about a recipe came easily enough to me.

Right now, I’ve got a huge amount on my mind, and I’ve got a million and one things that I could share, but I’m not sure I have the brain space or the capacity to share them. Writing a blog doesn’t take much time or energy, but it does take something... I’m not sure I have what it takes right now.

So... here I am, complying.

I’m going to tell you this.

I’m going to tell you that I make the best sticky toffee pudding known to man or beast.

There is a reason for this.

Sticky toffee pudding became a thing a decade or so ago. I don’t know why it became a phenomenon all of a sudden, and I’m not sure why it wasn’t a phenomenon before the last decade or so, but there it is... These things happen.

My problem with said dessert is that it is so often a terrible disappointment. So often it just isn’t sweet enough. So often it tastes of burnt sugar. So often it lacks the required moistness. It simply isn’t a pudding that can be relied upon... And how I like my puddings.

So, because I like puddings and because I like to bake, and, for better or worse, because I have learned a little something about food along the way, I developed a recipe for sticky toffee pudding. It is the best sticky toffee pudding you will ever eat.

But here’s the rub:

You will only eat this pudding at my table, in my home. 

Yes. I’m selfish about this particular recipe. Like one or two other things, it’s just too good. It’s too good for every day. It’s too good for everyone. It’s just too damned good. 

The upside is that if you’re nice to me I’m more than happy to invite you over and make my recipe. You only have to say that you’re a fan of this pudding and I’ll very happily make it for you. I’ll serve it with cream or custard, or even ice-cream, if that’s your preference. And I’ll serve it every time you come to supper. All you have to do is ask, but be warned, I’m not sure there’s another food stuff on Earth that serves up a grillionty-ten calories in every bite (and yes that is a technical term). It’s not for the faint of heart or the compulsive dieter.

Not for nothing, but the dort feels exactly the same way about her world class carrot cake.

In the meantime, I can recommend the Cartmel sticky toffee pudding which is available to purchase. It’s absolutely nothing like mine, but it is one that I eat and enjoy regularly. Go on... treat yourself.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Gall Bladder Cake

This might have been a medieval recipe or a magical potion, in my wildest, most fantastical dreams, or in some of my more obscure fiction.

It isn’t.

This cake is not made of gall bladders.

I love my Pops.

We have had a complicated relationship over the years, but I love him.

Pops loves his food. His appetite knows no bounds.

His mother was, and my mother is a very good cook.

His relationship with food would be uncomplicated, but for the fact that Pops also has health issues. For a long time, he somehow rumbled along, even with a heart condition. Somehow, he continued to eat pretty well whatever he wanted to eat, pretty well whenever he wanted to eat it.

Then the pain began.

I haven’t suffered the pain of gall stones, so I can’t say what it’s like, but, apparently, the symptoms can be deeply unpleasant. I certainly know that Pops suffered. 

Pops had to change his diet and he had to have his gall bladder removed.

Pops has a sweet tooth and he’s a big fan of good old-fashioned home baking. There isn’t much point giving him bought stuff, especially if it’s low-fat, sugar substituted and e-numbered up the ying-yang. It’s just not real food to him.

I like food. I like to cook, and I know a little bit about how food works, so I experimented and I came up with a recipe, and with it, I baked Pops a cake. I baked several over the ensuing weeks and months, but this recipe was his favourite.

All of this happened some years ago, and I never thought about it again. I gave Mum the recipe, and that was that.

Then, a couple of months ago, a FaceBook friend of mine found that she had pregnancy induced gallstones, and, suddenly, she had to change her diet, too. Emma had this to say:

Moan post: So it appears that the offspring (as in small child, not as in dodgy haircutted band) couldn't care less whether you're 6 months pregnant with gallstones, they are still going to use you as a climbing frame and eat your carefully thought out 'what the hell CAN I eat that's not going to cause me pain' snack. Which was grapes by the way. Bloody grapes, not cake or ice cream or anything outrageous.

Naturally, I dug out my recipe for gall bladder cake and messaged it to her. The following day, she had baked the date and walnut version of the cake and eaten it well, not all of it, obviously. The comments on her FaceBook page ran as follows:

Stacey: Fat free cake? What is this witchcraft?!

Emma: It IS witchcraft - only explanation for something fat free tasting that good. The lovely Nic responded to my whining yesterday about the double horror of being diagnosed with gallstones whilst 6 months pregnant. Therefore no fat allowed, therefore no cake. EVERYone knows pregnant women NEED cake as much as they need folic acid. Want me to send you the recipe in a pay it forward stylie?! It's goooooood.

I’m glad she enjoyed it, and I love the idea of paying it forward. 

This is a dense, homely cake. It isn’t fancy, but it is quite satisfying. I suppose I thought that making this recipe for Pops was just one of those moments in time. I suppose I thought it was a disposable recipe, but now it’s out in the World. I’m sure it was paid forward, and I hope that others will enjoy it too.

Now for that Recipe: Gall Bladder Cake

4oz (115g) wholemeal flour 
2oz (60g) oats
4oz (115g) demerara sugar
3oz (90g) raisins
1 apple peeled, cored and chopped
1 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
100ml yoghurt
50ml apple juice

METHOD: Put all the ingredients in a mixer and make a batter. Cook for about 35mins at 175 degrees (350F gas mark 4).
Emma's photo of her Gall Bladder Cake

There's also a date and walnut version:

4oz  (115g) wholemeal flour
2oz (60g) oats
4oz (115g) demerara sugar
3oz (90g) chopped dates
2oz (60g) chopped walnuts
1tsp mixed spice 
1 apple peeled, cored and chopped
1 tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
100ml yoghurt

1 dessert spoon demerara sugar
1 dessert spoon oats

METHOD. Put all the ingredients (except the topping) in a mixer and make a batter. Sprinkle the topping ingredients on the batter before baking to form a lovely crust to the cake. Cook for about 35 mins at 175 degrees (350F gas mark 4).

Tuesday 17 June 2014

It’s Catching

It’s not that I’ve never written a comic.

As it happens, one way or another, I’ve written quite a few of them over the years.

It’s just that, right now, for whatever reasons, and I have no idea what they might be, I’ve got a bit of an urge.

Comics are the husband’s thing. He’s been writing them for longer than he’s been doing anything else. He started writing them when he worked as an editor for Marvel UK, straight out of university, and he’s been doing it ever since.

He’s written for the big American comic book publishers, and the smaller ones, and the indies, and he’s written for the UK comic book publishers. He’s written for the junior titles and for digital comics. He’s famous for the Cosmic stuff, of course. Some of you might know that his work on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was the basis for the movie of the same name coming out this summer.

Some of you will know his work on titles like Sinister Dexter for 2000AD or Kingdom, or Grey Area, perhaps. 

Some of you will remember his run on The Legion of Superheroes.

He’s written stuff that might be considered more esoteric, too. The New Deadwardians was a big hit not so very long ago.

The husband was a comic book writer before he was a novelist, and the man’s a multiple New York Times best seller for crying out loud.

Me? Not so much.

I don’t have a track record.

I do, however, have a very long apprenticeship.

Having written comics, one way or another, and having read and edited and discussed comics for a very long time. Having worked on the husband’s work and having been part of his life, this stuff kind of rubs off.

I’ve written nine novels back to back in less than five years, and I’ve got two more scheduled. I’ve got plots for another... wow... goodness knows how many. Between those nine novels I’ve written a number of short stories and I’ve run the husband’s office. I’m his first reader and editor on pretty well everything. 

Now, I’ve got an itch. I’ve had it before and I’ve ignored it. 

The thing is, it’s a pretty itchy itch. It’s that thing between the shoulder blades that you can’t reach kind of an itch.

I know how this is done. I’ve seen it done. I’ve done it myself. I can write comic book scripts. I can write panel descriptions and dialogue. I can pace. I know how to work page turns. I know left hand pages from rights. I know about reading order. I know how many panels to work on a page, how many balloons, how many words to a balloon. I know about layout and storytelling. I know how to work with an artist.

I’ve worked with this stuff, in this world for a long time.

Here’s the thing, though. I haven’t yet done my own version of this thing. I haven’t taken my own original idea and developed it. I haven’t worked directly with an editor. I haven’t had my own stories commissioned.

Here’s another thing. I’m not the husband and I don’t want to be him. I can’t be him. One of the husband is enough. To try to be him would make me less than myself. 

I want to do something else, something new, something other. I want to find out what that might be.

Technically, I know I have the skills. Practically, I can do this. The question is, will anyone give me the opportunity? Will anyone buy into this?

Because there’s a downside. 

The downside is the husband.

It’s not that I’m a woman, although heaven only knows there aren’t a great many women in comics. I hope and believe that talent rises, that if anyone is any good at something, they will work. It might not always be true. There might be prejudice against women and minority groups, and when there is, in any arena, but particularly in the arts, we should all be ashamed, but I don’t think this is that.

I think this is something else.

Firstly, I think that people are afraid of nepotism. I think people are afraid to give jobs to associates and relations of people who are well known in their field.

My answer to that is: What makes you think the husband wouldn’t be married to someone who is his equal? What makes you think the husband wouldn’t be married to someone who can do what he can do? Don’t doctors marry other doctors? Don’t couples meet at school and at work? Don’t they marry because they have things in common?

Secondly, I think that people are cautious because I have no track record.

That’s my fault.

I do, as it happens, have a track record. It is my own fault that my track record is invisible. 

Because the husband is well known for what he does, and because I know the impact that can have on a life, I have always been cautious about putting my name to anything. I have always avoided publicity. I have always guarded my privacy and kept myself to myself. 
me by James K Barnett

It could have been otherwise, but it wasn’t. I chose that.

I would choose it again.

Times change, and circumstances change, and I have changed.

I’m not looking for fame or fortune, but I would like now to work. I would like now to be recognised for the work that I do. I would like to put my name to my work, because that’s the only way that I’m going to get more work.

Anonymity is lovely. I have enjoyed it, but being able to point to something and have people know, definitively that you earned the right to call it your own is invaluable in any business.

I’d like to write a comic book.

I don’t know what it will be yet, but I do know that I’m going to have to work pretty hard to convince anyone that it’s a good idea to pay me to write a comic book.

Who knows, maybe I’ll manage it. I’m hoping so.

Monday 16 June 2014

So... Magna Carta

Firstly let me just say that I am correct and that David Cameron is wrong: Magna Carta does not take the definite article.

So happy to have got that off my chest.

Our Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen,
demonstrating his ignorance… again
The Prime Minister went to Eton and read PPE at Oxford. That’s Politics, Philosophy and Economics. If anyone should know what Magna Carta is it bloody well ought to be him. He couldn’t even accurately translate the words ‘Magna’ meaning ‘Great’ and ‘Carta’ meaning ‘Charter’. Honest to goodness I would have thought a man with his background could have bloody guessed at it; it’s hardly rocket science, and certainly not for someone who probably studied Latin, and no doubt has quaffed from his share of magnums of champagne even if he’s never eaten an ice-cream off a stick.

I studied Magna Carta, if you can call it studying at that age, when I was nine or ten, in the third year of primary school, what we now call year five. I made a facsimile, stained with instant coffee granules and burnt around the edges. I believe my father supervised the matches. I haven’t studied it since.

I always think of Magna Carta as ‘Big Map’. Then I smile at my idiocy and switch to ‘Grand Design’. I remember that it was signed in 1215 at Runymede by King John, and that it was pretty well forced on him by ‘The People’. The People in this instance were, of course the nobility. Nevertheless, the document basically denied the King the right to do whatever the hell he pleased, and gave The People the right to some recourse to law, some Liberties.

I always think of Magna Carta as a sort of addendum to the Doomsday Book. In 1086 we enumerated who we were and in 1215 we gave ourselves some basic tenets to live by.

I don’t remember much else, and I’m guessing the stuff I think I’ve remembered hardly scratches the surface on the subject. I know Henry I had signed a Charter of Liberties a hundred years before Magna Carter, and other monarchs put their signatures to other documents before him. I know that there was stuff going on with the Pope. I know King John wasn’t popular, but I didn’t study this bit of history in much depth. 

I thought we all knew that Magna Carta is considered to be the first document that resembles a constitution and the one on which others, and in particular the American Constitution are based. Clearly that assumption was wrong.

The weekend newspapers were full of the idea that ‘British Values’ should be taught in our schools. I’m back to David Cameron. Our schools are in crisis, and apparently his answer to that knotty problem is that we should teach British Values.

I read several debates in several papers about what British Values are, about what David Cameron meant, and about what should be taught. 

What a lot of utter nonsense.

Values should not be taught in school at all. Values should be taught in the home, at least to begin with.

I’m not suggesting that values should not be part of school life. Of course there should be rules, and of course everyone in school should be expected to adhere to them. If rules are broken, sanctions should be applied. 

That’s as far as it should go. School is a microcosm of society. Society has rules. People have values.

My point is that we should teach subjects in school. We should teach reading, writing and Maths. We should teach History and Geography and the Sciences. We should teach languages. We should teach Art and Music, and, yes, let’s teach Religious Studies, too.

If we give our children a broad based education, if we teach them to think rigorously and to question, what makes anybody think they won’t grow to be adults with values?

What makes David Cameron think that there is anything intrinsically more valuable about an Englishman’s or a Scotsman’s value system than there is a Frenchman’s or a Ghanaian’s? What makes him think that my value system has any more in common with a random resident of say Liverpool than it does with any Berliner?

My personal morality is based far more on my experience of life than on anything else, and that has been informed by my education. I was very lucky to get a good one. My values are not British, and, to some extent, at least, they weren’t given to me by my family, although their roots are probably there.

My values have built up and been informed by the people who influenced my life. That began with my mother and the community of women I grew up with as a child. It included some of the wonderful men and women who taught me, of course it did. It included friends and colleagues and lovers. It included the people who shaped me. It included the people I wanted to be more like and the people I wanted to be less like.

Many of the people who influenced me are dead. Some of them have been dead for decades, some for centuries, and one or two for a millennium. Some of the people who have influenced me were writers and thinkers. I have been influenced by the people that I read.

Don’t tell our children what to think or the values they should have. Give them a bloody education and teach them to think for themselves. I honestly believe you’ll find that good values will follow. I think you’ll find that those values are universal.

Sunday 15 June 2014

My Personal Sacrifice: I Looked at The Sun, so you don’t have to

Last Thursday, June 12th The Sun put out a free edition of its newspaper to 22 million homes.

The Sun newspaper is produced by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corps and has the biggest circulation of any daily paper in the UK. It sells over 2 million copies a day, and has a readership in excess of 5.5 million daily.

I am not a Sun reader.

The paper does not interest me.

If it weren’t for the blog, I wouldn’t have read this edition, either.

I like to write a blog regularly, and, recently, I’ve been obsessed with the Dort and the Britian’s Got Talent tv show. I wouldn’t normally have watched Saturday night tv with mass viewing appeal, and it dawned on me that there must be some crossover between that demographic and this one, so I decided to test the water.

It’s very easy to be dismissive. It’s easy to judge. I decided that to judge Sun readers is beneath me. I’m not going to do that... not if I can help it. 

I might, however, judge those who produce this tabloid paper. Who knows?

First of all, I’m going to state, for the record, that, in my opinion this isn’t actually a newspaper. I don’t know what The Sun usually delivers in the way of news coverage, but there wasn’t any news, foreign or domestic, in this edition.

This is an advertisement. The Sun is using the World  Cup to gain readers. I do hope it doesn't work.

The Front Page

The front page headline simply read THIS IS OUR ENGLAND. 

This was enough to make me tense before I’d even opened the bloody thing. I know that there are Scottish and Irish editions of The Sun; nevertheless, invoking England in this way always conjures a form of nationalism that makes me deeply uncomfortable. And who are WE? I’m guessing The Sun isn’t referring to residents of England, to all our wonderful friends and neighbours. 

One hundred and eighteen faces looked out at me from that front page. 118 English faces, our representatives, people we could rely on to make us feel proud. I wonder how many of them would have chosen to have their faces attached to that headline or to The Sun’s banner? I wonder how many of them share this newspaper’s jingoism or its political stance? I’m damned sure many of them wouldn’t. I also wonder when Peppa Pig and Wallace and Gromit could be classed as people, or when they rated more highly than either their creators or, for example, our poet laureate, who doesn’t appear? If these 118 people are the pride of our country, I also wonder why The Sun feels that its readers need a key to who they all are?

Page 2

This was a rundown of the best English things. The first two groups were the best English people as voted for by Sun readers. The Greatest Living English Person question resulted in 34% of those questioned giving an answer in the categories ‘someone else’ or ‘don’t know’. Leaving a total of 66% voting for actual people. The Queen got 39% of the vote, and was the only woman on the list. Ant and Dec counted as one person. Two other royals were on the list. Sir David Attenborough got 16% of the vote, and came in second. 

I think Sir David would be horrified by that figure. I think Sir David would be able to cite dozens of English men and women in half-a-dozen fields whom he would consider to be great: scientists, academics, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, artists, statesmen. I doubt he would put himself in that list. I’d bet bloody good money that he wouldn’t put a couple of charming Geordies who do a telly show on that list either.

In the category of Greatest Historic English Figure, 15% responded in the categories ‘someone else’ and ‘don’t know’, leaving 85% voting for an actual person. Women faired better; there were five on the list and seven men. What was really interesting, though, was the grasp Sun readers have on history. Only two people on the list: Elizabeth I and Shakespeare were around before the last couple of hundred years, and they both came from the same period. It also happens to be the one bit of history we all learn in school, and the one that comes up over and over again in period dramas and movies. I’m not going to begin to mention the fact that Elizabeth I was also royalty. We’ve clearly got a bit of a thing about monarchs, and queens in particular, and the longer they live the better. The two Elizabeths and Victoria all feature on these lists. Between the three of them, they ruled for a total of 170 years, and counting! 

If our memories really won’t stretch past the last couple of hundred years and we like royalty, as monarchs go, George VI might have been a good candidate. He reigned for sixteen years, following the storm of his brother’s abdication. The first half of his reign coincided with World War II. Not an easy time to be an accidental king. He doesn’t appear on the list. If we like strong female monarchs and we’re so fired up about patriotism, why didn’t we vote for Boudicca? 

Page 3

The English rose: Girls, not flowers.

Page 5

James Corden

Page 7

World Cup. This free edition of The Sun was delivered on the first day of the World Cup. Absolutely no coincidence there, then.

Page 9

Tony Parsons

Page 11


Page 13

The George Flag and England supporters

Page 14-15

The Sun (mock) front pages

Page 17

Alex James

Page 19

50 things to do in England

Page 21

The World Cup

Page 22-23

The World Cup

Pages 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16, 18 20, 24


So, there you go... I had a look, so you didn’t have to. I looked into the heart of The Sun, and I wasn’t blinded.

You might be able to tell that I became fractious and bored pretty damned quickly, so I didn’t actually read it... I couldn’t bring myself to do it... I just couldn’t. Besides, if I’d read it I would’ve ended up writing about it, and can you imagine the snark factor? Let’s face it, you got 650 words on a cover photo and a pop quiz.

I’m going to roll up my free edition of The Sun, which in no way resembled a newspaper, and I’m going to post it back to them... And I’m never going to read it again.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Image is Everything

OK... It’s not everything, not in all cases, but it can go a damned long way to getting the job done.

I banged on quite a lot about the Dort being in the Addict Initiative and making it through the rounds of Britain’s Got Talent and into the live final. They’re great dancers and performers and they did a wonderful job.

There was a good deal more to their act than dancing, though. The whole thing wouldn’t have worked nearly so well if it hadn’t been for costume and make-up.
the Dort is on the right

We haven’t talked about this before.

I thought I’d talk about it today.

Britain’s Got Talent obviously had a hair and makeup department, and wardrobe. They weren’t, however, prepared to deal with one act consisting of twenty-six individuals. They didn’t have the time or the resources. 

They left it up to the crew. You might think that put the Addict Initiative at a disadvantage, but it actually gave them control over their choices, and they spent more time and energy on their look by doing it themselves than might otherwise have been the case... At least one of them did.

Of course for the audition, they had to make their own choices anyway, and that worked out just fine.

I’ve talked before about creative types often being interested in more than one aspect of the arts. I’ve talked about my own interest in art. I’ve talked about the husband being a musician. I know writers, artists and musicians who are cultural polymaths. It’s not unusual.

The Dort, who is a dancer, is also a singer and an actor. More than that, she’s an artist, and a pretty damned good one. She likes to apply her talents in the most practical ways. So, if you saw the final of Britain’s Got Talent and you saw twenty-three swamp things with painted faces, then it’s worth knowing that the Dort was responsible for all that art. 
The dort created this face for Halloween,
She also tinted her own purple hair

Between run throughs, tech rehearsals and interviews, the Dort spent last Saturday doing makeup for herself and the other twenty-two dancers performing as the swamp surrounding Hansel and Gretel. It’s not the first time she’s been put in charge of makeup for the crew and it won’t be the last. 

When big hair’s required, or colours or styles, she can put in a weave or a tint, and she can braid and curl and primp, and... well... you name it.

She’s pretty useful with a needle and thread, too, so she’s a dab-hand with costumes. When the Dort isn’t on the stage dancing, she’s backstage working on the image that goes with the performance.

Image isn’t everything, but to look like this takes some doing! 

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Childhood Horrors

I do so love a coincidence.

I have been reading about memoir on Anne Goodwin’s blog, of late. It’s a fascinating subject, and a conversation has been building on her blog that has been quite enlightening. Anne also wrote two companion pieces, one a memoir and the other a fiction, both very short, and both rather good. I recommend you read them.

On Saturday night I was in the audience of the Britain’s Got Talent final, and I suddenly found myself plunged back into an event from my own childhood. It was hugely traumatic... the childhood event. I remember it vividly. I had nightmares about it at the time, and since. It's a story I've told from time to time over the years.

When I was about four years old, I saw an escapologist chained and suspended from a burning rope. His name was Alan Alan. On Saturday night, Darcy Oakes was straight-jacketed and suspended from a burning rope that was operating a man-trap.

I didn’t watch. I couldn't watch.

On Sunday morning I managed to find footage of Alan Alan on YouTube. The film is from 1979, from a decade or so after I saw his act, but it’s essentially the same.

This is Darcy Oakes performing last Saturday night.

I’m glad I didn’t watch Darcy Oakes's performance. I'm glad I covered my eyes. I’m also rather glad that I took the trouble to find Alan Alan on YouTube, and that I’ve now seen both pieces of footage side-by-side.

I’m not sure I’ve entirely dispelled those daemons. I’m not sure after four and a half decades that’s even possible. I do, however, suspect that particular nightmare is a thing of the past.

It does cross my mind, though, that there’s very little new in the world of entertainment. Darcy Oakes was impressive and many of us might not have seen this particular spectacle before. I know that Alan Alan was doing something similar at least 45 years ago. That doesn’t necessarily take anything away from the drama of Darcy’s act or from the skill or showmanship with which he performed it. I know how enthralled the audience was by this rather good magician. I could feel the tension in the studio, and I could hear the gasps, the sighs of relief and the huge applause he got from the people all around me when he escaped the jaws of that trap.

He chose his act well, and he delivered it flawlessly.

Time’s a funny thing, isn’t it?

I’m four and a half decades down the line. I’m a grown woman. I even have some idea how this act was performed and why it might have been possible that Darcy Oakes wasn’t in any real danger, and why Alan Alan, in his time, probably wasn’t either.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t watch. My heart was in my mouth. I was that four year old child, again, for a little while. 

Thanks to Darcy Oakes and the modern wonder that is YouTube, that’s one nightmare I don’t have to revisit. I wasn’t expecting to be reminded and then relieved of it, and, although I was rather blindsided by being confronted with it at the time, I’m rather grateful for the experience.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

In Praise of Art, and in Celebration of Donna White

I’m a great believer that art transforms our lives... All our lives. From movie posters and CD covers to municipal art, from the great masters we look at in museums to the kids’ pictures we stick on our fridges, the art we look at informs our lives and alters the way we look at the World.

I love Donna White.

I’ve known her for probably fifteen years or there abouts, and she befriended me in the most direct and emphatic way. It’s the only way she knows how, and it’s wonderful.

Donna is an extraordinarily energetic artist. It is her life. She makes everything her life. I don’t believe I know another woman like her, and, trust me when I tell you that it is a huge privilege to call her my friend.

This week Donna White has an exhibition in Bracknell at Bracknell Gallery, South Hill Park Arts Centre, South Hill Park, Bracknell RG12 7PA. It is a one woman show. This woman and her art are all you need.

Panoramic shot of the exhibition.

I rarely review a book or an art exhibition, or a film. I tend to leave those things to the critics.

I couldn’t resist this show.

I embarked on a Fine Art degree myself after taking a class once a week for ten years. It has been a hobby of mine for a long time. I can’t claim to be a terribly good artist. I can claim to be a very interested one and a keen one. I exhaust myself with the effort. I also take an interest. I collect art, I visit shows, I commission pieces. I own Donna’s work.

I’m not just a person ‘bigging up’ her friend, although I’m so fond of this woman that I probably would do that.

I believe that Donna White is breaking new ground with her work. I believe that no one else is making work like it.

Go out of your way to visit the exhibition and take a look for yourself. Look at the wonderful, dimension defying art that makes up the main body of this exhibition. Look at the materials, the juxtaposition of forms, the use of paint.

Marvel at the extraordinary portraits. Get up close. Examine the paint and the layers and structures.

And if you don’t want to do all that. If you don’t feel able to cast a critical eye. Just stand in front of these pictures and look at them. They will affect you. You will come away changed.

And if you don’t believe me, here’s a teaser:

For more from Donna White, you can find her blog here.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Fifteen Minutes of Fame: The Britain's Got Talent Live Final

The Dort. Always captivating.
And so, it's over. We were there. We saw it all with our own eyes, and we shared the triumphs and tribulations of all the contestants. I could talk about it for hours, but late last night the husband updated his FaceBook status. I like what he wrote, and I can't think of a better way of expressing just what it all felt like, so here's the husband telling it like it is.


Just got back from being in the Britain's Got Talent finals live audience (ugh, traffic). Very emotional and exciting. No, they didn't win, but The Addict Initiative put in an amazing performance. Massive! So proud of Lils. So proud of them all. I've become very fond of her fellow dance-crew members.

I just wanted to thank you all for your support and good wishes, and Lily sends her appreciation too. It meant a lot to her, guys.

It was very weird being there. Everything moved so fast (two and half hours of live show flew by in a flash). The stage crew was amazing, moving sets and refitting for each act so fast. And being there live meant I saw how truly good the acts were. Addict were amazing, of course, but I was blown away by James Smith and Lucy Kay. God, can they sing, and hold the stage. It doesn't translate on TV. Trust me.

And Lettice? Extraordinary. Dazzling.

Nik couldn't bear to watch Darcy Oakes's escape routine. Live, it was terrifying. I mean, UTTERLY...

I guess what I mean to say is that TV doesn't do justice to the sheer performing talent of these people. Live, they are breathtaking. Collabro brought the house down (both times), and they are fantastic, and probably worthy winners. But I was shocked to see James go out so early. His performance was the highlight, singing-wise. We were rapt. He was utterly himself. He's going to be very big.

When it came to the final three (obviously I wish Addict had been there), we were cheering for Lucy. Her performance was astonishing (again, I'm sure, depleted by TV). And there I was convinced that Bars and Melody were a shoo-in (right from early on).

An immense night, and we were glad to be part of it. I just, really, wanted you to know how talented those talented people were. In the flesh.

Lily's at the aftershow, and we're back home, decompressing. Again, and on her behalf, I really want to thank you for your support. It's touching to see Facebook and Twitter friends, (and I'm gonna add blog followers to that list -N) met and un-met, becoming REAL friends to bond like that. You guys...

Gonna sleep now (really have to because writing needs to happen tomorrow). But thanks again.

And I love Lily so much it honestly choked me up typing the above.

(sigh) To sum up, the main points again:

1. You people are great and thank you all.

2. If you get a chance to see James, Lettice or Lucy live, DO IT!

3. I love my daughter ("The Dort") more than the world. More than the WORLD.

And here's The Addict Initiative's final performance, for the last time I (almost) promise:

Saturday 7 June 2014

You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down... Or Britain's Got Talent the Live Final

Have you ever had one of those days?

I bet you have. I bet you’ve had one of those days when you’ve just taken a good kicking... or several. I had one of those days today (Friday). Actually, to be fair, it began yesterday (Thursday), about thirty-six hours ago, and it doesn’t seem to have ended yet. But far be it from me to be pessimistic, so I’m going to call it a day: one single, dreadful day.

It’s on days like this that I wonder whether I shouldn’t just throw in the towel. 

The trouble is, you can’t can you? Well, I can’t.

I can fight it, which I have. I can be upset by it, and I have been. I can get angry, which I have. And, eventually, I can try to sleep it off. I tried that last night, and I’ll be trying it again tonight.

Is it better, I wonder, to take it all at once? Is it better, if the faeces are going to connect with the fan, for them to just keep coming? Would it be better if all the crap was spread out over, say a week or a month? I don’t know.

I have been known to rip off the plaster. I have been known to suggest that I’d like all my pain in one go, right now. I don’t like the drip, drip thing. It’s torture.

Perhaps I should just be careful what I wish for.

I am writing this at ten o’clock on Friday night. We’re an hour into the nine til two shift. That’s a thing in our house at the moment. Our workload is insane. Honest to goodness, I should probably have typed that in capitals. I shouldn’t actually be writing a blog now. I should be writing a novel. I will get back to it. I promise. 

Tomorrow, or today, since this is Saturday’s post, is another day. Thank all that’s good and wonderful in the World!

Tomorrow/today is the day that the dort appears in the live final of Britain’s Got Talent with her dance crew The Addict Initiative. With only twenty-four hours notice, we found out that we had been allocated tickets. It’s EXCITING! I made T-shirts and everything. And if you don’t believe me, here’s a pic of me wearing mine. Take heed of the message emblazoned across my bosom and don’t think for a moment that I don’t mean it!

I intend to hurtle from a ridiculous day to a sublime one. I get to watch the dort performing on stage, and it’s one of my favourite things. We’re rooting for the crew. I know several of the kids, and they’re fab. They’re also hardworking and good at what they do. That deserves rewarding.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m a fan of talent shows, but what I will say is that the husband and I have actually sat through quite a lot of Britain’s Got Talent and we’ve seen most of the acts that will perform tomorrow night. Of course I’m backing The Addict Initiative, and I think they’ve got a good shot at winning, but I was quite impressed that there is some genuine talent in this year’s final line-up. It pleases me.

So, yesterday was fraught, but today will be fabulous! How do I know? This is how I know! And yes, I know I've shown you this before, but it features the dort (the girl with the blonde, curly hair) What can I tell you, I'm her mum.