Sunday, December 20

Another Solstice

In my recent hunt for work I launched a multi-pronged attack - this time I included the use of agencies in my arsenal. Mostly these are an irritating waste of time but, in these straitened times, I felt that I ought to visit a few. They usually have quite grand-sounding titles and are located at an impressive address, I have been kept waiting in mahogany-panelled splendour but more often, lurking behind the impressive Kensington or Knightsbridge façade, lie stained carpet tiles and broken MFI furniture*

One agency has a name that makes it sound like a charity shop and is situated in a very unfashionable part of London. I made an appointment with Julie who is the sole employee and owner of the agency, she opened her front door to me and invited me to follow her up to the office. We picked our way along a hallway scattered with footwear and toys, then up the stairs and I was shown into the spare bedroom. The only chair was under a pile of laundry, Julie placed the stuff on the chair on top of the pile of clothing that was on the floor. I sat on the chair while Julie sat on a little step ladder. Agencies always ask you to bring lots of paperwork, I handed my papers over, then watched with fascination as Julie balanced a scanning device on one knee, a laptop on the other then placed my pages on the scanner which scraped and squeaked away for a while. During this time I was able to notice that Julie’s big toes had worn through her slippers and although her office didn’t have any desk space it did have an exercise bike, some full rubbish sacks and a lovely big stuffed rabbit.

Despite the apparent chaos Julie’s is the only agency that has found me any work, I start cooking regularly for a new client in London in a couple of week’s time.

Tomorrow I’ll have been married to The Director for ten years, I wrote about the wedding here, we’re going away to celebrate and I’m taking a short blogging break. I’ll get on with the next chapter of Earwig Sandwich when there’s something to write about.

Happy Solstice to everyone and if you celebrate anything else at this time of year - Happy that too!!

*The employing client doesn't visit the agency, the agents go to the client.

Monday, December 14

Interview Tragi-Comedies

I have been in the production office helping Miss Whiplash choose a new helpmate. We’ve been through this process many times; we place an ad, discard the many slovenly, illiterate emails masquerading as applications, a short-list is drawn up, appointments made and we wait to see what will appear before us.

These were our favourites:

1) The man who appeared to be auditioning for a part in 'Oliver'
Cap at a jaunty angle, he took up a stagey pose on the doorstep and launched into a prepared speech.

2) The candidate who chuckled away as he said
I go crazy if I have to write stuff, I manage to do the title and then I go aaaarrrgghhh (waves hands aloft makes horror face) and then I tell my girlfriend what I want to say and she does it for me.

3) The young man who glossed over the reason for the early termination of his previous contract
Whiplash pressed him: Was there an accident Julian?

Julian: N-no, no (long pause before adding quietly) not really

4) The man who completely disregarded Lovelock Style Rule No 475*
Shades, wacky bandana, multiple piercings and the bottom part of a ZZ Top beard

5) The shouty man
when asked what his responsibilities were in his current job, treated us to a 15-minute rant about his work colleagues

We have taken on someone who appeals to us very much but I’ve completed a survey on who we’ve worked well with over the years and next time I’m just going to write this advert:
Help wanted: All applicants should be able to make tea and deal with rubbish bins. Women should be fierce, men should be nerds with strange hobbies - funny hair a bonus in all cases.

*Lovelock was a friend and style guru, wearer of orange Paul Smith suits, man bags and highly polished footwear, he passed on many pearls of wisdom, rule No 475 pertains to headwear
Never have more than 2 crazy things happening on your head at once; big hair, big glasses – fine, but ditch the wierdy beard

Tuesday, December 8


image: work 289 by Martin Creed

By Friday evening I was feeling thoroughly bad-tempered, having spent the afternoon haggling with a prospective employer. I then fought my way through rain and dense London traffic to another meeting but I was late and missed the rendezvous. I ended up damp and out of breath outside Tate Britain feeling more than a little sorry for myself.

The classical façade of the Tate building is written across with a big neon declaration that EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT, a sentiment ludicrous enough to cheer me up immensely, putting me in mind of the final scene in Monty Python's Life Of Brian when rows of crucified men sing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Inside, the Tate was hosting a series of events under the title Extraordinary Voices, I arrived in time to see two women trussed up in elastic dresses, each at opposite ends of a long gallery at the top of tall stepladders, they sang to each other through megaphones, it was lovely - like I’d imagine mermaids would sound.

And then I saw a long-lost friend - singing with The London Bulgarian Choir, it’s the sort of music that makes me weep – in a good way.

They’re worth seeing if you get a chance to catch them.

Wednesday, December 2

A Tale of Two Dining Tables

I returned to Bristol earlier than planned last week, just in time to see a bed being removed from the top bedroom which is becoming a second editing suite, the first editing suite was whirring with the business of getting footage prepared for the new editor.

At the bottom of the house a Camera Boy has been busy operating knurling machines and drills, metal shavings crunch underfoot in the the kitchen and the dining table has many tools on it. Carpets and furniture are glittery with the shine of metallic dust - Christmas simply isn't Christmas without it.

In the middle section of the house, The Director was surrounded by women and cake and was getting flummoxed, he’s spent the last several weeks in cars with boys and cameras and has forgotten how women carry on; Zena was in doing lion research, Mrs Moneypenny was getting the government-related paperwork in order and Miss Whiplash was unveiling her current collection of winter clothing. Last year it was floor-sweeping, furry filmstar cloaks, this season she’s channelling her inner intrepid-reporter via cream flak jackets and fur-lined underwear.

On Monday The Director flew to America to talk to people in the offices of National Discovery and I went back to The Smoke...

Last night I was engaged to give a cookery class at a private house in Hampstead, the idea being that I prepare tapas for the hostess and her guests while talking about what I’m doing, they join in with the making if they want, then everyone gets to eat the food - somewhere along the line the original intention was lost.

I arrived and was shown by a maid to the vast kitchen/dining room fitted with a big shiny cooker, double-sized double sinks and impressive granite work tops completely obscured by gadgets; 2 juicers, a breadmaker, a microwave, remote control units, toys, little bottles of condiments, jams, medicines and a footspa, there is not a handspace of work surface visible.

The kitchen is dominated by a massive table, covered with a cloth and decorated all along a wide central section with 6 big vases of flowers, dry fruits stuck on tall stalks, swirls of feathers, glittery pine cones and trails of beads and sequins leaving not quite enough margin around the edge of the table for the 14 place settings already laid out - there’s nowhere to put any food.

My breathless client had forgotten about it being a cookery demonstration. She talked very fast about all the dogs and children that needing taking to vets and flute lessons...

Are you ok to just carry on? Juanita can show you where everything is and help you peel things. I’ve got no idea how many people I’ve invited but they’ll be here in a couple of hours, I should be here just before and we’ll have a little champagne – will the food be done by then?

Wednesday, November 25

Job Hunting Blues

Earlier in the year it was agreed that I would stop working at the production company in October and do cooking for a living full time.

I am looking for work in London, a lovely friend has loaned me her apartment to use as a job-hunting base. My friends are concerned, they write to ask if I’ve found a job yet. This is one of my recent progress reports:

Dear Em,

I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch for a while, London’s been a bit up and down, well quite a bit of down actually, and I’ve been waiting for an up before writing.

Last Tuesday I put on a smart black dress for an interview with a titled lady who needed a cook for business meetings. I spent 2 hours in a Holland Park basement listening to an aide telling me all about Her Ladyship's 'funny ways', she asked me no questions at all - not even about my axe-murderering past. I met the Lady very briefly on my way out.

Wednesday: a fashion company asked me in to cook a lunch for 60 staff members then totally sabotaged my efforts - I couldn't start before 10 am, they changed the menu, didn’t order what I asked for - it all became so bad it was funny.

Thursday: An aide to that fancy pants photographer Rankin rang to ask if I’ll come in and cook for a day (lunch for 20, top models, hysterical assistants - you know the thing) and will I lower my rate by two thirds!

Friday: cooked lunch for 10 vegans, 2 babies and a very bouncy dog, that went quite well actually - I think I even enjoyed it and they've just written to tell me that they thought it was marvellous!

This week all the meetings I set up have been postponed or cancelled, it’s also been a week since the monologue from the titled lady's assistant, I’ve not heard back from her - I guess she’s found out about my axe-murdering past!

Much Love

Monday, November 23

Old Money, New Money, New Order

People with inherited titles are a subsection of celebritydom. Wealth and privilege seem to make most people peculiar but there are significant differences between old and new money, I've also noticed that the way people behave about food reveals a lot about their insecurities:

Many years ago I cooked for Kaiser Bill’s great-grandson, known to me as Prince Nicholas. The Prince's wife at that time had been a debutante and her teenage years were spent being groomed as a suitable marital prospect for Prince Charles, but Charlie went off with Diana so the deb had settled for Nicholas. This setback wasn’t going to be allowed to dampen regal standards;

At the beginning of each week the Princess would hand me a very royal set of menus, every day the meals involved lots of richly sauced game, accompanied by side dishes and desserts swimming in alcohol and butter - and there was always a soufflé, the weekend menus would require two soufflés in the course of one meal. Not that any of this was actually eaten, the Princess preferred to eat salad and her husband was watching his cholesterol, so the ducks, the soufflés and the trifles would come back to the kitchen untouched.

I have never yet known Old Money admit to a food allergy, they simply bark a command such as: Never serve mushrooms! or There must always be gravy! Popstars, models and actresses, on the other hand wear their food fads like identity badges. Working at recording studios I got used to serving food that allowed for various diets and allergies. There was a period when a great many wheat-and-dairy averse clients from California were staying at the recording studios, and the food had to get really esoteric. These were overlapped by an English band called New Order, everyone sat and ate together in the large dining room. After a couple of days I had a visit from the New Order boys

Can you do normal food? - shepherd’s pie would be great, or sausages, we love sausages.

Thursday, November 19

Telling Me How It Is

My husband has finally come home after spending many weeks in Africa, he's been away for most of the year and I'd forgotten that our sartorial tastes don't often coincide.

I have items of clothing that he really dislikes, and I've been buying more in his absence. He is not a stupid man and never criticizes what I am actually wearing, instead he puts a lot of emphasis on the positive, I set off for an interview this morning with this compliment ringing in my ears

Now that's nice, much nicer than the cardboard skirt and fishermen's boots

Wednesday, November 18

The Luck Of An Attenborosaurus

A few years ago, during a BBC shoot in Switzerland, Sir David Attenborough arrived for a single day to narrate a piece to camera.

SDA has a reputation for having miraculous luck and one of these events happened on this short little shoot.

During breakfast we discovered that SDA didn’t have a blue shirt. For continuity reasons he always wears a blue shirt and the producer usually carries a spare but today no-one had a blue shirt.

The nearest town was at least an hour’s drive in a direction away from the filming location, a big logistical nightmare was brewing as we discussed the options.

On the way to the location we had to pass through a tiny town consisting of a baker and a newsagent, none of these unpromising-looking shops were open yet. But as we arrived three vans were parked and starting to set out their wares; a ladies underwear seller, a tablecloth seller ... and a man wheeling a rack of ladies blouses out of his van, we screeched to a halt, I snatched a short-sleeved blue blouse off the rail, held one against Sir David and said 'how much?

We were charged a ransom for a really badly made nylon blouse with buttons the size of cds but the colour was right and it saved the day.

Monday, November 16

Celebrity Gossip part I

Some of my readers are feeling toyed with, a couple of my posts have mentioned famous people and it is felt that I am holding back - I should stop teasing and start spilling beans.

I have worked for quite a lot of famous people but there are some problems with telling stories about them:

a) The people that I think are famous are probably unknown outside the UK

b) The best stories would get someone into trouble (mostly me)

c) Famous people aren’t necessarily gossip-worthy – hey guess what! David Attenborough is a really nice man and he’s not that keen on guacamole*

Ok - here’s a Paul McCartney story:
Macca was due for lunch at the studio where I was working, his wife Linda was coming too and we were all a bit nervous. The main door to the studio was also the kitchen door - my job was effectively cook/receptionist and I was trying to get the place tidied up before the celebrities arrived.

The rubbish bin liner was overfull and was wedged in it's container so I got one of the engineers to hold the bin while I hauled at the sack. We were at maximum strain when four things happened simultaneously:

1 the door opened and the McCartneys walked into the kitchen

2 the liner popped out of the bin and I fell backwards

3 a mouse was flung out of the bin, into the air landing briefly on me before running away

4 everybody screamed

then we all laughed, the ice was broken and we seemed set for a comfortable vegetarian lunch. During the meal Linda started getting a bit ranty about the cruelty of fishing. The engineer got the devil in him and changed the subject by saying how delicious my tart was - everyone agreed and made yummy noises, then he said

And she's not just good at veggie stuff, we all had a bit of the goat she killed last week and that was great too

I had in fact recently slaughtered one of my goats and shared it with my colleagues so I couldn’t deny this and the atmosphere went icy.

My punishment came the following week. Linda had recently expanded her range of pretend meat products (TVP sausages and mince) and she had written an accompanying recipe book. She sent some recipes to the studio head, asking if the cook would try them out on the studio guests and fill in reports about how well they went down. Everyone hated them and I had to bribe the testees with extra special cakes whenever I made a Linda Lunch.

* Actually I do have an Attenborough story – the last time I saw Mr A was at an event at London's Natural History Museum. Towards the end of the evening he led me through the museum’s corridors until he found the specimen he was looking for – He grabbed my arm and pointed up at a big old fossil and said

Look! Attenborosaurus Bakker – how cool is that?

then he said

Right must go - Goodnight!

and he danced backwards down the corridor waving at me as he disappeared out of sight.

Thursday, November 12

God's Gifts

Light Man had spent the morning mending holes in the roof and would shortly be going out to re-hang the front gate that has been lurking behind the bins since it fell away from it’s pillar a couple of years ago. We’d stopped for lunch and during the pear and hazelnut tart* we discovered that we had all listened to the same Radio 4 programme that informed us about Kate Winslet’s need to wear a merkin while filming The Reader.

That prompted lots of hair/wig-related stories, including a declaration by Miss Whiplash:

That is one area I don’t have to worry about, I spend my life controlling hair everywhere else on my body but my lady garden is naturally neat – I like to think of it as God’s way of giving me a little treat.

*top tart tip – pound together some fresh thyme with sugar, put a spoonful of thyme-y sugar in your pastry and in the cream when you whip it up, thyme + pears = yum!

bearded couple image found here

Tuesday, November 10

Putting The House In Order

The production office personnel is suddenly expanding rapidly, Zena our Swiss warrior-princess has come back to help plan next year’s ant-filming, Whiplash is firmly back in the saddle and the Camera Boy now known as The Pepper King is busy practising his ballroom dancing moves in the kit room.

The filming team will be back here in less than a week bringing trolleyloads of kit and several million terabytes of material that will need organising in short time for an edit that will go on through the winter. It would probably be better if our building is waterproof, it should also be warmer than the outside temperature and there should be lights working in more rooms than just the kitchen.

For years I have been living in a state of denial about the steady deterioration of this house, fixing the kitchen lights last week activated the ancient law that states that 'once one thing is repaired you notice how much else is broken‘ – this is ok because we have discovered Light Man who has the power to mend things and is also extremely attractive! Today he replaced the panes in the sash windows that had cracks taped over with bits of gaffer tape, this necessitated Miss Whiplash holding onto his legs while he applied putty to the outside of upper-floor windows.

More Bad Hair
I have also been in denial about the steady deterioration of my hair and finally took myself for a haircut last week, I tried to visit Laura but her barber shop has shut down. I walked on and into a place that looked like a hairdresser's from the outside, it turned out to be run by boys wearing trousers belted below their underpants. I let one of them do something 'interesting’ with my hair. Then I had to go on further and find another hairdresser, one run by grown-ups who could make me look 'normal’ again, my hair is now several inches shorter but I no longer look as though I have escaped from an asylum - this is important because I am cooking for a new client tomorrow...

Tuesday, November 3

Passing Time

I’m back in the production office for a few days. Until recently it's been a hornet's nest of frantic activity here, all the parts of the filming team finally got off to Africa a week ago but then there were inevitably extra lorryloads of hard drives and cables to be sent out and lots of argy bargy about camp charges and filming fees, but Miss Whiplash sorted it all out and now it’s all gone a bit tum-ti-tum here - on the upside we finally have a chance to catch up with all the online horoscopes, Facebook and Guitar Hero.

When we’ve had enough of these activities, Miss Whiplash, the Youngest Camera Boy and myself entertain ourselves, and any passing guests, with tea parties and lunchtime events. Today a lovely man came and made the kitchen lights work - to celebrate we invited him to join us for lunch. YCB won several gold medals with his splendid stuffed peppers.

Light Man told us about his other job as a DJ;
I used to do toasting - but then I got shy.

I noticed a trendy new clothes shop today so I went in to investigate, I had a question to ask the sales assistant who was Welsh and very camp - I had to wait while he finished telling his colleague about someone he’d met at a party the previous night:
... well he made me really cross, I wanted to kill him and stab him and burn him.

Sunday, November 1

New Porridge Invention

Yesterday I made porridge for breakfast and just as it was ready the phone rang, turning off the heat I picked up the call from my father. When we'd finished talking the porridge was lukewarm, I added a bit more milk to the pan and reheated it ... but the phone went again and by the time I came off that call it was lunchtime so I abandoned the porridge and went out.

Coming back later and seeing the pan of solid porridge I decided to test my husband’s assertion that everything is better fried:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...

Bubble and Squeak Porridge
(loud applause please)

Served here with bananas, dates, maple syrup and cream, the crunchy bits are good, if it’s the wetness of porridge you object to, this is definitely a dish for you.

Wednesday, October 28

Being in London

This week I’m back in my friend’s creamy-carpetted London apartment and wondering whether I should get one those hooded, paper boiler suits like they have in cop shows to protect this perfect place from me.

The London neighbourhood is not at all like my Bristol one; take the local sex shop, in Bristol it's all blacked-out windows and bad typography, here in London the window is swathed in pink satinette and doubles as a joke shop, so you can pick up some bloodshot-eyeball fairy lights and a severed hand with your gimp mask and spanking paddle – it just makes sense.

I'm struggling with the concept of this one, it's a bit like shops we have in Bristol called Pound Shops, where the deal is simple - everything costs a pound. In London they have shops that look identical, stock the same brightly-coloured tat, but the crucial difference is that they promise everything will cost more than a pound, but 99p or PLUS - I ask you!

Saturday, October 24

Awards and Eye Sores

Stills from must-see movie Casus Kiran

Highlights of the week:

Saturday: Invite friends for supper, at the end there is rice pudding with coconut milk, cardamom, and baked pears, there’s a long curl of lemon zest in the pudding and toasted almonds on the top, it instantly wins a Dish of the Week Gold Star, hail self as genius then accidentally poke same self in eye with wooden spoon.

Woke with head cold, the eye is swollen and gummy-looking. Total disaster as must look totally gorgeous in exactly three days time.

Monday: Whiplash is back (Cheers from the gallery!) her rash has cleared up and she has discovered a local source of custard tarts baked by Portuguese person, they go exceedingly well with coffee from lesbian café.

Eye looking a bit better

Tuesday: Go to London and stay in friend’s cream-carpetted apartment - she is away. Scared of spoiling immaculateness so confine self to kitchen. Have boiled egg for tea while holding a cold wet flannel on eye. Check an email that is already sent as tender for cooking work, note that I make claims to have catered large pubic events

Wednesday: Eye looking good, set off for interview, wearing chic outfit and proper grown-up make up. Get caught short while approaching Westbourne Grove so nip into the local designer gorgeous public lavatory.

Try to wash hands but soap dispenser nozzle blocked, push harder on soap lever, suddenly soap becomes unblocked, resultant jet of liquid ricochets off my open palms into eyes, rinse energetically, there are no towels. Emerge looking like I’ve been in a fight.

Thursday: Bristol and a gig: Andy White, is very good, here's one of his videos

Friday: Film and dance event in converted church, a spinach and peanut butter wrap served during interval wins Interesting Food of the Week Award.

Sunday, October 18

Autumn Colours

Been revelling in the sheer autumnalness of Bristol since coming home, the farmer’s market is very exciting, partly for the vegetables but also, surprise autumn-only stalls have appeared; there’s a chap who sells apples and cider, a squash man and the game butcher has more variety at this time of year, I had a look to see if he was selling squirrel yet - unfortunately not, so I bought a bag of pigeon giblets instead. Miss Whiplash and I tend to eat even more cake once summer's over and the Women’s Institute stall were having a competitive parkin bake-off, made sure that I capitalised on that one.

Last week on market day I had lunch date with PH, was planning to lure him into one of the the market cafés where they serve cooked-up versions of the stall produce. Seems that PH is frightened of vegetables, he suggested that we attack a mountain of smoked salmon that he’d recently caught at Loch Fyne. The salmon was delicious but then he made me sample a fruit salad that he was apparently going to distill once the fermentation process had completed, regular readers might know that I’m fearless on the experimental food front but I can tell you that I was quite careful not to go near a naked flame for the rest of that afternoon.

Wednesday, October 14

Coming Back To The Marie Celeste

I’m back to work. The office is very quiet because Miss Whiplash ran off to Sharm el Sheikh with a new lover a week ago and has now picked up some sort of disease that is apparently keeping her in bed until next week. The boys are away filming in Kenya, except for the youngest Camera Boy who did come back with the German trophy (and it really is made of sand), I can't actually tell when he's in though because he disappears under a massive pile of cables in the kit room that all need cleaning and untangling.

My Turkish holiday is already a distant memory, just before I set off on the trip I had this exchange with my hairdresser;
She: Are you off on holiday then?
Me: Yes, Turkey
She: Lovely - a beach holiday?
Me: Not really - there'll be a lot of loafing about and eating though, I don’t think I'll be spending loads of time looking at monuments
She: Well you don’t go to Turkey to look at monuments do you?

Hilarious, but she was right, Turkey might be crammed with impressive monuments but it is also a country full of the loveliest people - the best bits of my trip were definitely the bits with Turks in. Nice thing about Turkish people is that they’re as nosey as I am, and wonderfully direct, a lady on the bus to the airport asked my nationality then, What sort of education have you had?

Most surprising moment was after an earnest young man came to my rescue in Istanbul then took me to a cake shop owned by the city’s mayor and made me try the chicken pudding (Tavuk göğsü). This fat white tubular dessert is made with finely minced chicken breast, I tried the one in the picture and can report that it is a very sweet, rubbery sort of thing (like Turkish Delight) and I could have handled it better with a knife and fork than the dainty spoon I was given, meat fibres are a strange thing to see in a pudding.

Wednesday, October 7

Better Stop Looking Now

The party at Bonjour Pensiyon (see last post) went on most of the night and involved a lot of singing and dancing, even Grandma forgot her humming and danced and grinned like it was the best party ever – which it was. Next day I loaded their computer with the movies and photos I had made during the evening and they loaded me up with a big bag filled with olive oil, jars of olives and olive oil soap (because the olives in Ayvelik are the best in the world!) and the following evening I staggered on to the night bus - bound for Istanbul.

My baggage consisted of little more than a skirt, a summer dress, some t shirts, swimwear, spare knickers, a hat and a shawl - and a lot of olive-based products. The weather in Istanbul is in the 20s and feels like the height of a British summer but the residents of Istanbul are swathed in their autumnal woolies and I was looking ridiculous.

Yesterday morning I went to Taksim, the area one goes for shopping.

An escalator brought me, and a pile of other people, into Taksim square from the underground station, there was a demonstration going on and several of us stopped to watch, the crowds were perfectly well-behaved, marching nicely through the square with their banners, then the police started firing tear gas and the demonstration was made chaotic, I got swept up running with all the protestors, filtering off down side streets stopping finally by a shop to buy lemons and water which helped ease the burning.

Finally today I managed to get me an autumn outfit, a frock and some shoes, all I needed were some black tights - could I find some?

There are countless shops selling hosiery but none have plain black tights. The shop assistant, determined to sell me something, produced a pair the wrong colour, I said these are brown

the shop assistant replied no not brown, light black

Saturday, October 3


I’m staying in a small fishing town opposite the Greek island of Lesbos (famous for inventing lesbianism). Now that I have been assured that staring is perfectly acceptable behaviour in Turkey I have embraced the concept wholeheartedly and stare as hard as I like as I wander around, and I must say that I’m thrilled with the results. I passed a bakery today and stopped to watch several men, all with cigarettes firmly clamped in their mouths, working together to load the oven. They asked me in and I photographed the handsome brutes. My staring drew stares from the rest of the square and soon there was quite a crowd of us. Next door’s, extremely young, male hairdresser came in with tea -there are loads of hairdressers - and there’s always tea. This hairdresser gave me a bracing infusion of eucalyptus, a flavour I wouldn’t ever actually choose, but I’ve put worse things in my mouth so I swallowed bravely and now feel quite medicated.

Wanting to communicate something and failing a bit, the Hairdresser ran off to fetch an exercise book, in which were hand-written all the English phrases that could come in useful to a hairdresser

Hello, How are you, Would you like a haircut, a shampooing, how much to cut?

We leafed through the book but there was nothing that matched what the Hairdresser wanted to say. Actually I would have quite liked a haircut but he was redecorating the salon and his hands were all painty, also I would have had to climb over the piled up chairs to get to the shampooing sink.

I’m staying at the Bonjour Pensiyon, a guesthouse straight out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. A large, crumbling and beautiful house from the Ottoman period with painted ceilings and fabulous light fittings. The central courtyard is paved with marble and piled with plants, this is where breakfast is served and where the sultry girls who run the place spend their time, smoking, gossiping and looking after grandma who has been suffering from Alzheimer's for 20 years now, the old lady is like a baby bird with her shock of fluffy white hair, she hums constantly and tends to wander off when nobody’s looking.

Yesterday there was another guest, a silent Turkish commercial traveller. Now the sole paying inmate, I spent lunchtime with the family and have been invited to the birthday party of a member of the household this evening - the large man who had manned the reception desk yesterday. I remembered him because he was naked apart from his red satin underpants.

Wednesday, September 30

Strange Visitor

I didn’t intend to stop for more than one night in Aydin, but I hadn’t reckoned on the fulsomeness of Turkish hospitality. One of the professors from this town's university visited my house in Bristol last year, so I dropped by to say hello on my way north - I’m not allowed to leave until I’ve been properly shown around.

Aydin is largely made up of newish pastel-coloured concrete tower blocks and mosques, visitors do not come here. Before I go out on the street I put on clothes that I think are properly sober, I look in the mirror and think 'would a Turkish person wear that?’ and I think they might, but people are falling off their bicycles trying to get a better look at me, so I guess that I must appear as an odd cartoonish figure in this landscape. If I look back at the women I pass, they have often stopped in the street and turned to watch me, when they see me they smile and wave, which is nice but slightly unnerving.

I am leaving tomorrow but not before I have made a supper party, my mouth made the suggestion before my brain could stop it and now I’m a bit daunted by the prospect of cooking for a roomful of Turkish academics, possibly they are all daunted by the thought that I might make them eat toad in the hole and spotted dick.

Aydin is known for it’s figs so I’m going to make this tagliatelle dish with figs, lemon and chilli (it’s good, try it) followed by chicken and spinach salad with roast peppers.

This morning I went to the market with its streets of vegetable stalls piled high with produce. The other shoppers are all pushing big overflowing trolleys, I try and buy just one handful of chilli peppers and I get laughed at, it’s not worth charging me for such a small amount, nor the single lime - then some ladies stop me and ask me something - I can’t understand, so one of the women makes a call on her mobile and passes the handset to me so that I can speak to a young girl trying to translate her mother’s question

My mother wants to know ... whasserangum afffersezzem ...

... actually I can’t remember the exact sounds made after that first bit, but it was incomprehensible, we flounder around trying out sounds on each other until the phone runs out of battery, we part company with none of us any the wiser.

Mudbathing Postscript
There seemed to be demand for an image of the mud baths, I'm the one wallowing.

If you stand up in this warm salty compound it's thigh deep but lie down in it and you bob on the surface - weird, and cool, when you want to de-mud you can just dive into the lake on the other side of the wall.

Saturday, September 26

Hot Turkey

The first part of this trip has been in Dalyan, a small Turkish holiday town. We stayed in one of the messy jumble of small pensions hugging the curve of a fat river, the tourism here is low-rise - not chic but there are no chain outlets here either. The bulk of the foreign tourists have gone and the holiday-makers are mostly Turkish now.

The popular thing to do is hop on one of the boats going to the coast, whole families come along on these trips, the men take my husband aside and try and teach him something about fishing while the women get out their purses and, through sheer force of will, make me understand their family history illustrated with the bundles of photographs they always have with them. A ten-year-old from Istanbul with frighteningly good English helped with some translation and, hearing that I had not eaten well the night before, has drawn me up a list of what I must eat and the places I must visit when I get to her city. The image here is one side of several pages of instructions, you might need to click on it if you want to read it.

The Director has now gone to America to attend another film festival and I’m going to go and look at some other bits of Turkey on my own. Lone travelling always gets a bit more extreme and I’ve had some awful times doing it as well as some really good ones, if I can get a connection I’ll tell you about it...

Thursday, September 17

Staff Dispersal

Whiplash left me in Spain, flying off to Portugal to shake her tambourine with her band. Our youngest Camera Boy went to Germany to attend a film festival where one of our films was in the competition. It’s one of a series of short insect films made for children called Smalltalk Diaries, the insects are all voiced in different British accents, he sent an email to let us know that we’d got a prize and I’m wondering if we’ll ever see him again:

hey all! just a quick email to say smalltalk has won the childrens audience award here at greenscreen - congratulations!! pictures to follow......

i've made friends with lots of german film makers, volunteers and the film watching public- yesterday I had some authentic kartoffel suppe at deutsche couple's house. the screening of smalltalk was pretty interesting because there was a live narration by a husky german man, who did put lots of effort into doing different voices for the characters. i have met some guys who are sailing to kiel this evening from eckernforde so I am joining them and have taken the necessary precautions to waterproof and protect the trophy (made from eckernforde sand).


here's a bit of the winning programme

The African filming trip returned while I was away, I've heard it was a roaring success but the participants are too exhausted to talk about it (sorry about lack of updates on the Field Notes site, I think when enough sleep has been had there will be news). Cake Boy is now trudging through heaps of digital footage that needs lots of processing, he will be alone in the office for a while because I’m taking The Director to Turkey today.

Friday, September 11

Spanish Antics

We accomplished our mission to find out what the Argentine ants are up to in Spain by virtue of running a camera continuously while Whiplash and I bombarded the Spanish ant scientist with questions. It was a bit like when they send children out to interview celebrities. Among other things we established that;

a) The Argentine ants in Spain are indeed part of a global supercolony*

b) Human activity makes exactly the right conditions for invasive species

c) The ant scientist's favourite colour is yellow and he often has a croissant for breakfast

Our work done, Whiplash and I retired to Cadaqués, a ridiculously picturesque seaside town close to the French border. Salvador Dali made his home there, and it is impossible to turn a corner without seeing his famously mustachioed face. We visited Dali’s very theatrical house which is stuffed with all sorts of things; bottoms, bosoms, mirrors, taxidermied swans, the odd bear and a boss-eyed owl.

I had completely misunderstood the importance of the holy toast (see last post). Too late I realised that, rather than eat it, I should have hung it medallion-like around my neck to ward off the series of temptations placed in my path by Whiplash. I shall not go into detail (I have many episodes on film and plan to start up a sideline business). Hauling the bottles up the hill to the apartment was great for our lungs and biceps but the positive effects might be outweighed by the fact that I’ve started smoking again. I’ve also come home with ‘prickly heat’ – at least I think that’s what the rash is, either that or I’ve picked up something from the daily foam party.

Pop-tastic video courtesy of Whiplash on her mobile phone

*most species of ants make a nest that works like a self-contained state, when they meet ants from another nest, whether of their own species or different one they behave aggressively and often kill each other. Ants of the same species that have formed multiple nests and act in a friendly way towards each other become a supercolony - a sort of federation, they will all be related to each other. Usually a supercolony extends over a few metres or even kilometres of land area, the Argentine Ants have formed a supercolony that extends across continents

Saturday, September 5

My Little Pony

I’m lucky enough to have a big derelict building at the end of my street. The broad steps in front of it are occupied from mid-afternoon onwards by the local winos, but in the mornings anyone can use the space. Last week some ladies in green quilted waistcoats stood among the empty bottles and dried up body fluids and set up a sandwich board advertising Free Prayers.

I wasn’t busy and felt that I could do with a boost, so I told one of the ladies what I needed, then I stood next to her while she shut her eyes, clasped her hands in front of her bosom and said a sort of poem from my words, then I continued on home.

I was a bit sceptical, then excited. Then I got anxious because if Jesus really did send me a pony, I wasn’t sure where I’d put it. This morning though I witnessed a true miracle. On burning my toast the clear image of a pony appeared - I’m not so sceptical now am I?

All that Jesus has to arrange now is for Whiplash and I to get off to Spain - she’s successfully bribed the courts to put off her next hearing, but she is singing with her band tonight and the gig/after party needs to end before the 6am flight.

If it works we’re away for a week – so see you later!

Tuesday, September 1

Girls On Film

Crumbs! – I thought I had sorted out a lazy escape for Miss Whiplash and myself - but it looks like we’re going to have to work for it after all.

We have some euros left over from a previous production that need using up - but they must be used for filming business. With my customary brilliance I suggested that we do a recce for the next leg of ant filming which will be in Spain.

What I meant was, that we could try out some hotels and restaurants to see which would be the best for the film crew to use, but the producer has just emailed me several detailed pages of instructions about the things he wants finding out, here are a few of the issues to be explored:

… film the ant colonies to give us an idea of size and density, have Whiplash stand in for scale in some shots … need to know the activity of the ants – when do they first get going in the morning … perhaps this depends on light hitting their nests … When do they stop … what will the weather be like when we plan to film … how will the weather then affect ant behaviour … video some ants fighting to give us an idea of what happens … would be good to get an idea of the day-to-day activity of the ants … What other species of ants are nearby … interview ant scientist to give us an idea of what he is like on camera

Despite this setback I'm still looking forward to it, if I can get Whiplash's tag off we're going next week.

Thursday, August 27

Naked Ambition

Whiplash is doing Community Service today and there’s no cake left. In the lull I find myself once again checking the small ads. Today’s favourite is this one for a Receptionist/PA
(must be over 18) Need a receptionist/Personal assistant for our successful company but must be a hit with management and clients. Must be a flirty bubbling character very open minded.

Are you prepared to do anything for progression. can you work in the nude in a naked office environment?

If your that person get in touch

One might think that this is for employment in a common-or-garden House of Ill Repute and although the syntax does seem to point that way, I'm considering whether this might be the start of a general trend towards nudism in the workplace - or maybe one of my ex-employers is doing a recruitment drive:

I once had a job at an architect’s office, cooking lunches for a sexy beast called Ian Pollard and his staff. Ian was terribly enthusiastic about nudity at work, he had more nudie pics on the walls than you could shake a stick at, his wife and his PA wore very few clothes indeed. Ian himself didn’t like to be too naked at work, we frequently entertained Stalwarts of Industry and he wouldn’t have wanted them to have felt overdressed, and the risk of injury from spitting chip fat compelled me to stay fully covered.

Mr Pollard gave up the architectry soon after I stopped working for him and followed his true vocation: getting on telly as a naked gardener, I’m wondering, if that’s him advertising for a new PA.

Update: I quite like the Sun's take on this too.

Monday, August 24

Fire And Cake

It seems that we were hit by some kind of storm last week; the film crew arrived back from Arizona, frantically unpacked, repacked, people came and went with bits of engineering, repaired computers and reformatted batches of hard drives

the fridge was emptied.

At 4am this morning we hauled cases out to a vehicle for the trip back to Africa.

I’m standing among the debris of abandoned bundles of cables and surplus wads of packing – I have the stupified look of a cartoon animal that a train just ran over but it hasn’t realised yet.

On the bright side a lovely New Boy has come to work with me and Miss Whiplash

He makes cake

Today he arrived at 9am accompanied by a strawberry sponge and whipped cream

I might recover

Thursday, August 20

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Miss Whiplash is due in court today and we’re all hoping it won’t result in a custodial sentence this time. We’ve had a few discussions as to the best outfit to wear for the judges and I think she might be reducing the leopard print accessories for the occasion.

I’ve never actually made it to court but that’s not for the lack of being naughty, I’ve had several sphincter-clenching moments when I’ve fully expected to be taken away by a policeman and locked up for a very long time. I started a list of my best closest near misses but it just rambled on and on so I'll cut to my top favourite brush with the law of all time:

One of the recording studios where I worked had a big farmhouse kitchen, I cooked and we all sat down and ate together, we drank just water, no wine. After supper the musicians, producer and engineers would go back into the recording studio and continue working.

Larry Klein arrived to record one day and that first evening his wife joined us for supper. Larry’s wife at the time was Joni Mitchell, she had spent the afternoon smoking weed with Dawn, one of the studio employees. They were in high spirits and when the boys went back to work after supper, the girls wanted to get booze and cigarettes and asked me to take them somewhere to stock up.

My car was an A35 manufactured before my birth date and as Dawn got in the back and Joni sat next to me lighting another joint, my mind was obliterated by one repeating thought

I have Joni Mitchell in my car

As we swept into town another thought joined the first

I forgot to get the MOT* done
which distracted me a bit.

Then Dawn said
You’ve just gone through a red light

and there’s a police car behind you

it wants you to pull over

Now my head was full of the newspaper headlines

I got out of the car and smiled sheepishly at the two policmen who said:

Did you know that you jumped a red light back there?

Yes I’m really sorry

We’ve been following you for quite a while actually, we’ve not seen one of these for a few years, d’you mind putting the bonnet up and starting the engine so we can have a look?

And they never noticed the stoned rocker.

*it's a legal requirement to have a valid MOT certificate and the police would normally have asked me to present this document.

Tuesday, August 18

Full House

Everyone is here; Miss Whiplash swept back from her Scottish sailing holiday, the film crew returned ready roasted from Arizona, there's a New Boy. And the kit is also back.

I live in the same house as the production company and it’s suddenly very crowded here. I have just got some ply cut to fit over the bed in the spare room to make more space to unpack, clean and repack the cases (ready for next week's trip), my other jobs include getting cross with insurance companies, transcribing the interviews done with the scientists, chasing people for receipts ... and buying food.

The food thing is mainly because Barney the Tall Teenager is also back. Last month he started digitising a pile of tapes that needed processing, a job he started with gusto, but then he got bored and petered out.

I’ve finally caught up with him and twisted his arm with an extra bribe of limitless nice food and a financial bonus if he gets the job done by Wednesday. He has taken me at my word - the first thing he does when he arrives in the morning is check out the fridge and get breakfast. Today already he has consumed some yogurts, 2 boxes of cream cakes and a plateful of pasta, sausages and peppers that would have fed an army.

In order to get the job done in time I want him to work on this evening, so that means more cakes, and a promise of cow pie if he’s still here at 8.

Thursday, August 13

Vicky Pollard's Sister Cuts My Hair

The prospect of an interview in London meant that I finally had to face the fact that I needed a haircut. Most of my French and English hairdressing visits have been quite harrowing, the French ones are fierce and tut when I refuse their advances with the lacquer can and the English ones have a tendency to weep about their boyfriends - or they give me too much detail about wedding outfits and child care.

All I needed was someone to cut a straight line across my shoulder blades, I’d left it to the last minute, the Spanish barber over the road advertises that he is unisex so I stopped by to see if he could fit me in.

Turned out that Manuel was not actually unisex himself but he does have a ladies basin and chair looked after by a disarmingly candid and fast-talking teenager called Laura, her accent the broadest Bristolian, here’s a reference for it in case you’re not familiar:

I was going to get a dry trim, making the visit as speedy as possible but Laura was lovely and made a remark about her employer that was so deliciously indiscreet that I found myself asking what she’d charge for a cut and blow dry, she threw in a special offer just for me she said:

Today I’ve got an offer on of twenty five pound, normally it’s thirty five pound but Jasmine’s left and taken all the customers with her and the book’s empty now so me and Doreen are trying to get more people in.

For the hour it took to ‘do’ me she bathed me in a stream-of unedited chat prompted by my answers to her questions:

Laura: Going anywhere special tonight?’

Me: Just the cinema, I’m going to see Coco Before Chanel

Laura: Oh I love that. I got one of those artificial bags down the market. I love quilted stuff. My Nan made loads of quilts. Mum doesn’t like them though she thinks they’re too hot....

And I learned loads of useful stuff too, for example, if I bought just 10 issues of The Sun newspaper and collected their tokens, I could get a holiday for £9.50. You wouldn't get that information in a Vidal Sassoon salon.

It was the most fun I've ever had at a hairdresser's - I shall go back there.

Monday, August 10

Bunking Off For Banksy

There is one Camera Boy in the office, diligently logging all the material from last month’s African lion trip, Miss Whiplash is on holiday and I don’t want to deal with the expenses sheets.

This morning I made a big pile of bacon sandwiches and a flask of coffee and ran away from those receipts, at 8am I joined my friends, various people armed with books and newspapers and some children playing Snap to queue for a show by our famous local boy vandal.

Banksy has been pursued for decades by 'The Authorities' for graffiti-ing around first Bristol then the rest of the world and now here he is, in our stuffy little museum, he’s filled the entrance hall with a burned out ice-cream van and binge-culture statues staggering around with their dogs and shopping, fairground music playing tinnily in the background. There are his trademark witty stencil pieces, a room of quite disturbing animatronic creatures and all the upper galleries of stuffed animals and old-fashioned paintings in big gold frames have been interfered with, here’s one of the reviews

Proper grown-up critics can dismiss Banksy as An absolute thundering backside, Charlie Brooker refers to his fat-arsed, berk-pleasing rubbishness (a lot of arse criticism then!!) but an entire road has been closed off to accommodate the queues that two months on, are not abating. The lack of subtlety in Banksy’s work is not the point - it’s funny, cartoony stuff done with great panache and a big part of Banksy's charm is that, unlike many artists, he doesn't take himself too seriously. More people have gone through the doors of our, normally moribund, local museum in the last two months than in it’s entire history and I bet the Oxfam shop opposite are still smiling at the anonymous donation they received just before the show.

Wednesday, August 5

Office Party

Since the crew went off filming ants, the production office has gone very quiet. Miss Whiplash and I meet up occasionally to eat cake and play the office bongos but we broke out the Champagne yesterday when an email arrived to say that an episode of our insect series (Pollinators) is a finalist in a German Film Festival, I emailed the news on to one of the Camera Boys and asked him how things are going, this is his reply:


I've told The Director about Pollinators and he seemed very chuffed. All is indeed well here and we're churning out some darn cool footage and enjoying it too. Got some great stuff today of aphaenogaster (long legged ants) licking their queen's bottom. We are working in labs amongst lots of scientists, the rooms here are filled with hundreds of plastic boxes full of the ants - it is pretty fascinating. The daytime heat has a very similar feeling to pointing a hair drier at your face, so thankfully we're inside now! We had a seriously spicy Thai meal this evening in a restaurant and so we have put some toilet roll in the fridge in anticipation for tomorrow morning.


Sunday, August 2

The Food Of Love - Part III

This is Mariam Hassan and Manuel Dominguez, her producer explaining about a stew that they are making, it really should be made with camel - but I couldn’t find any camel meat so she has made do with lamb.

I was standing backstage fascinated by their tattooed feet

Mariam is from the Western Sahara but Morocco has occupied this land since 1976 and the Moroccan security forces continue to treat the Sahrawis extremely badly, Mariam has found asylum in Spain but many of her compatriots have been stuck in Algerian refugee camps for 33 years now.

Morocco has built a wall across the territory it is laying claim to in the Western Sahara and Spain has in turn built a wall to keep out the asylum seekers

This review of a talk given last month by Wendy Brown discusses the astonishing number of walls that are going up all over the world.

Monday, July 27

The Food Of Love - Part II

I packed up the Taste the World tent last night after Andy White, assisted by professional toast-maker John Leckie assembled and served a spectacular Rock ‘n’ Roll Breakfast.

Coco Pops & Kalua
Granola with Strawberries Flambéed in Irish Whiskey
Champagne with Marmite Soldiers.
with a side order of beer

John had said that he would make Eggs Benedict, but then decided that he wasn’t up to making a hollandaise sauce
Andy: but you’ve produced Radiohead
John: making Hollandaise is much more difficult than producing Radiohead

My work done, there was still time to go and see more musicbefore the end of the festival, all the food left had to be thrown out or given away, there were 4kgs of lamb in the fridge with no takers, so I divided the meat between my shopper and my handbag and took with me to go and meet Miss Whiplash who was watching Roy Ayers at the other end of the arena - I was halted in my tracks by music from this band*

and got no further. I saw no more of the Whiplash but she sent a text to say that Roy was totally amazing and she was running after his tour bus to see if she could have his babies.

I did see/hear a lot of great music, The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are raw pulsating sex on 18 legs, if there’s a show coming near you - see them.

I bought Antikrisis after seeing this and I’ve been playing it non-stop since I got home.

* Sorry about rubbish sound but it's as near as I can find to what I heard from Ba Cissoko a man currently being touted as Africa's Jimi Hendrix.

Wednesday, July 22

The Food Of Love

In Real Life I’m a cook, these days I take short cooking jobs and fit them around the work going on at the production house. In my early cooking days I catered for pop stars and I still do quite lot of work with children, but it tends to be non-musical events. I am therefore, really excited, about  my job this weekend at WOMAD, a music festival set in a vast parkland strewn with people performing songs and dancing, I'm especially looking forward to seeing these people.

One of the performance tents has a stage set with a kitchen – artists, who are also performing on the larger stages, come here and cook something for the public who come to watch the spectacle - it’s like Food Art with music.

My role in all this? I am The Girl Who Shops; I get sent details of what the musicians want to make, I buy the ingredients, make sure they have enough of the right sorts of pots, and when the cooking gets going I might end up stirring a sauce while they toss pancakes.

My shopping list includes ‘crumbs of salt cod’, chorizo, smoked ham and ‘moong divide', the Food Events start with Cuban Chicken on Friday and end with a rock ‘n’ roll breakfast on Sunday evening (Kalua and Coco pops and a demonstration of the sort of meals you can make inside a hotel kettle).

the musicians often send accompanying notes, placing their choice of dish in context. Many WOMAD performers are in some way exiled from their homeland, Mariam Hassan is currently resident in Spain, she will be making a lamb dish from the Sahara, to finish she will serve 3 different sorts of tea, the first will be As Bitter as Life, the second will be As Sweet as Love and the third will be As Soft as Death.

Sunday, July 19

Bringing It All Back Home

The Director is back from filming in Botswana, most of the kit is in storage but the lenses are up in the spare room for testing and cleaning. He's mostly been asleep since his return, which is a shame as I was hoping he might do some Man Jobs, like get the congealed fat out of the drain.

He's hoping I'll do some Woman Jobs, like fix all the broken trousers that are in his clothes bag. I won't be doing that because I'll have my arm down a drain, but I will model the trousers that show what happens if you stand too close to the camp fire.

Saturday, July 18

Young, Dumb And Sponging Off Mum

I rely on other people to point me in the direction of telly that's worth watching, in view of the post I put up a few days ago I'll be watching Charlie Brooker's recommendation from behind the sofa.

Thursday, July 16

Dilo Doll Mania Starts Here

Now that we’re blessed with so many television channels, the content needed to fill the yawning chasms of televisual space must be found from somewhere. Mr Dilo in Romania has come up with a winning proposal for a game show; his idea is to pitch his wife Banzai-style (who I totally back to win) against some other people with an unconventional take on their chosen religion.

I’m planning to steal his idea (Genius Steals – Mssrs Picasso, Wilde & Elliot said so), but first I need a photo of Mrs D so I can get some plastic dolls made and a load of other stuff with her image on it – then I’ll be onto a winner and get rich.

I know this because I have recently had a lesson in the economics of children’s television from a lady working for a Spanish television channel - she has a budget of 8 euros ($11) per minute to spend on children’s programming*.

For this sector, programme ideas come mainly from people who want to sell stuff; so a set of characters is thought up by a marketing person, they get together with a manufacturer who then make a load of toys, clothing - you name it they'll make it, branding the characters over as many bits of old tat as possible. The marketing people write out guidelines for the merchandise and then get it strung together into an extended advert which is then called a children’s television programme.

Dilo's idea is perfect for kids, they love punch ups don't they? Earwig Sandwich will soon be given over exclusively to offering you our latest range of Dilo Dolls, Mrs Dilo Lunch Boxes, football strips and ear wax holders. Hand over her photo Mr Dilo and I’ll cut you in – don’t make me make it up!

*To get a broadcast-quality tape of an hour-long programme copied and sent to a tv channel, it would cost in the region of $150 plus courier costs.

Monday, July 13

The Point Of It All...

Barney has been in the office helping out for a few days, I’ve known him since he was very young, he’s now 18 and has become awfully tall and spotty, I have my suspicions that aliens visited him a couple of years ago and exchanged his brains for bits of fluff and mice.

He finished with ‘school and stuff’ over a year ago but hasn’t been able to get more work than the odd shift at a local bar. We talk about what he could do with his life, I make encouraging noises about the things he’s good at, he makes polite noises back.

Finally, frustrated at my lack of perception he puts the nub of his problem more clearly

I just want to get some money.
(with that uplift at the end, like it’s a question)

Thursday, July 9

RIP Monsieur Splendido

I have spent the evening trying to find the words to write to someone who has just lost her husband. As a couple they clasped me to their bosoms, became my friends and gave me an unparalleled introduction into the tight little society that is rural France.

I was in France looking for a farmhouse that we could use as a filming location and crew accommodation. I had spent my first few nights in increasingly dismal hotels, so when I walked into the lounge of Hotel Splendido, a sixties timewarp of black quilted vinyl, shiny teak veneer and flamboyant floral displays, I felt I’d come home.

Monsieur Splendido and his magnificent moustache were rivetted to a banquette his eyes fixed to a fuzzy image that might have been a sport game on a huge old television screen, he must have divined my presence through his whiskers because he didn’t take his eyes off the box as he bawled for his wife to come and sort me out.

Madame Splendido was stiffly coiffed and wore the sort of makeup that frightens horses. She was sharp and to the point and gave me a thorough interrogation before handing me the keys to my room.

The hotel's restaurant is popular with the locals, in the summer, dinner is served outside on a sunny terrace. The evening that I arrived most of the tables were full of chatty laughing couples, I was shown to a table in the middle of the terrace and Monsieur Splendido (now dressed in chef's whites) appeared by my side, he introduced me to the other diners with a grand flourish, as though he had produced me from a hat;

This is Lulu she is looking for a house to rent, please help her if you can.

The Splendidos were a double act, the magician and his glamorous assistant and it is impossible to imagine one without the other.

Sunday, July 5

Holy Turtles

Carnival is basically a Good Thing, but I usually try and be out of town when it's on, partly because of the racket, but also because the police chases and firework fights can get tedious, I also find it alarming when people hide behind my wheelie bin to shoot up.

Having spent most of the last 3 years out of the country, I had completely forgotten about this annual Caribbean bonanza. However I finally twigged by noon on Saturday when my radio had become inaudible despite only being two feet away from me. I decided that I might as well give up and join in.

I crossed the road to the main body of the party alongside a girl in a vest and face paint, her toes had scraped their way through the fabric of her red slippers and she was propping up a grinning man with a propeller on his head.

The parade was cranked up to full volume, local community groups samba-ed along in enormous glittery costumes, banging drums and pushing trolleys piled high with sound systems. Punctuating the groups were dancing girls wearing little more than body crayon, big shoes and feather headdresses.

The only community group that had decided not to compete in the sparkle stakes were Team God who had opted for a theme entitled 'What I wear To Shop At Asda’. Unity was achieved by dint of large gold cardboard stars tied to their backs, making them look like a flock of holy turtles. Each star was customised with text, mainly a single inspiring word: Give, Smart (??), Happy... emphasized by repetition, like the turtle-man who had the word hopefully written many times in biro all the way down his back.

I think they must have salsa’d too hard, too early on, because by the time I saw them they were trudging wearily and trying not to look at naked girls and men on stilts with bananas in their jockstraps.

This morning I swept up the remains of the television I heard being kicked down the street during the night.

Monday, June 29

The View From the Office

Over the years I have worked intermittently for this production company, mixing film production work with my other (quite different) freelance work. For the last few months I have been working here full time.

Our film crews are currently working in the US and in Africa. Miss Whiplash and I remain, up to our necks in budgets, schedules and cake, in the production office.

We hear from the field when there are problems; the Monarch butterflies have been unseasonably late arriving in Wisconsin and excessively cold weather has arrived in Africa. This weekend, after days without word from Africa I received a call from a cold and exhausted Director, he has decided to break camp and the crew will make a 2-day journey to another location which should be easier to work in.

Being in a good communication zone a new post has been emailed for the Botswana blog, it is full of details of the local wildlife and practicalities of making a film. Meanwhile back in the office the phone calls fill us with the visceral sense of how these projects lurch from triumph to tragedy.

Today I have dealt with a batch of invoices - they tell a story too.

Here’s a section from the African camp suppliers:

1 X replacement battery charger
2 X replacement radios
Long Johns
10mm wing nut
Brazing Rods
5 X Famous Grouse Whisky
2 X cases of Red Bull
1 X box re-hydrate powder
Game Powder Energy drink
Rennies tablets (large)
1X bag of rags
1 X tarpaulin + 6 X duct
vehicle respray for filming vehicle*
re-modelling of filming vehicle
ski rope

*The standard safari vehicles in the area are white - ours is resprayed khaki, partly because a white vehicle is a distraction to hunting animals, but more importantly, as camouflage against other humans out on safari, once they spot a vehicle parked up, they pile over in their droves, creating an instant car park, which is also off-putting for the animals.
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