Getting back from Milton Keynes the weekend before last heralded the start of four days of good behaviour. The only way I was going to shift the extra poundage I’d put on after a fortnight of pizza, beer, Wotsits, Rekorderlig and more pizza, was to do an emergency dash to Lidl for a kilo of yoghurt and a cupboard of grapes. Work was pretty much scheduled in concrete – I had a 20-min short to write for a producer friend; a project we’d been batting about for a while and which we hope to get made this summer. As with most things, I can’t do ‘a bit here’ and ‘a bit there’, I have to lock myself away and obsess over the thing, from first keystroke to last, and will not emerge from the chrysalis until I know there’s a bright, beautiful butterfly waiting at the end. Which is a really, really crap metaphor, but you get the idea. It was only the first draft, but we’ve both been ‘living’ this project for over a year now, that I was pretty confident of nailing it by draft three. First draft done, sent off, notes received, away we go.
Monday, through Thursday, then, I was unaware of time, or even what day it was, but that’s no bad thing. I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on in the world when I have my head in something. I think that’s called selfishness, or insularity, but I prefer to call it “inability to multi-task”, because multi-tasking is mental as well as physical. I finished the first draft on Thursday, and slept better that night than I have in a long time. Not because I thought the script was brilliant, far from it, but it just meant that the train had started chugging, and the end destination was in sight. Nothing worse than sitting in the station wondering when you’re going to start your journey. You just want to get moving! And yes, another utterly feeble metaphor. Awful, in fact.
The grapes and yoghurt did their job and I’d dropped 3lbs by Friday morning. I even mixed things up a bit by sneaking in an Ainsley Harriott chicken & leek cup a soup sometime on Wednesday but, by and large, it was a yoghurt detox week. That smugness was soon to disappear, though, as Friday arrived, bringing with it Kirsty. I think we’ve seen each other more in the last three weeks than we have in three years, but we had a Scouse christening to go to at the weekend, and we both knew that, with a permanently empty fridge here in the Collegiate Debtors’ Prison, that “eating out and drinking lots” would be the order of the weekend. And, often, it’s cheaper to eat out than it is to eat in. Seriously, it is.
Friday, we bombed down to Bistro Franc, as the Cointreau cheesecake from last time was still doing erotic stuff to my palate, and I needed to have it again. As happens so often with great experiences you try and replicate, however, my high hopes were dragged back down to earth, first by the chicken and pancetta pasta I’d chosen for my main course, which was so enormous it looked like I’d not even had any, by the time my plate was taken away. Secondly, the Cointreau cheesecake was unrecognisable from the thing of legend I’d scoffed a few weeks previous. For one thing, they’d forgotten to put any cheese in it. It was more a lump of cream on a biscuit base, and so, so disappointing. I felt like the Grinch had just come and stolen Christmas. The waitress, bless her, tried to explain that they had a different chef, and admitted that it wasn’t the first complaint they’d had. So if anybody knows where their Jedi Pastry Chef buggered off to, please, please tell me.
To try and assuage the pain of my cheesecake separation anxiety, we had no choice but to head to Ma Egerton’s for a consolatory bottle of Pinot, and the opportunity to heckle England as they played San Marino. Being a Red, it might be logical to assume that I also support England when it comes to internationals. But that’s a fallacy. To be honest, I’ve never been able to muster up much enthusiasm for England, I just don’t feel connected to them at all. I spend most of my football life shouting down the likes of Rooney, Ferdinand, Terry and Bale, so to be expected to suddenly start cheering for them just because they’re wearing an England shirt, doesn’t make sense to me.
Club football is so different from country football. I have an emotional connection to Liverpool FC, bolstered by years of going to the game, years of investing blood, sweat and lots and lots of tears into a club that has been with me my whole life. It’s not just about the team, which will always be changing. It’s about the streets, the supporters, the soul of this city, all the constants that influence and shape us every single day. Sure, I like to see Stevie, Stu, Daniel, Jordan etc do well when they’re on duty, but that goes for all our players, whatever shirt they’re wearing, our Spaniards, our Uruguayans, our Brazilians, even our Welshies ;). Maybe, too, it’s because of the experiences I’ve had at England games, that makes me feel so isolated from the whole “Ing-er-land” thing. I’ve only been to about half a dozen, granted, but the enduring memory of all them, remains the same – bile, the hatred, the racist bollocks coming out of the mouths of everybody stood around me.
I go the football for the game, pure and simple. I don’t go to shout abuse at players just because they’re a different colour or race from me. I can never get my head around that, in any environment. Like, why? Just why? But that’s happened at every England game I’ve been to. And I don’t mean a few arseholes in Row 21, all lagered up waving plastic England flags. One memory sticks in my head, and that was the England v Uruguay friendly at Anfield a few years ago. It was a “friendly”. Ha. For the entire 90 minutes, I had to listen to not one, not two, but at least half a dozen (unrelated) twats, with their children, bellowing out the most vile, hateful stuff to every single Uruguayan player each time they touched a ball. On the pitch, we had Rio Ferdinand, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe, who were cheered and clapped by the same animals, whenever they did something of note. Yet as soon as the ball would go to a Uruguyan, the bollocks started, and it was really vile stuff. Thing is, most of that Uruguyan team were whiter than the beauts abusing them. I mean, just how stupid are they? And at the final whistle, the same dicks would ruffle their kids’ hair, take their little hands and lead them out of the ground on their way to McDonald’s, or wherever, like they were the best dads in the world. That was seven years ago, but I’m willing to bet that those kids are now going to England matches on their own, and behaving exactly the same way as their plankton fathers. That was the worst England match I’d been to, but in all honesty, the others weren’t that different. That’s not to say that club football doesn’t have idiots – I know loads of them – but there’s something about nationalism that brings out the worst in people. It’s a bloody football match. Only it’s really nothing to do with football, is it……?
Anyway, once Kirsty had ripped up her betting slip (Rooney hat trick, er, never mind…), we somehow ended up taking whisky nightcaps from a handsome stranger, before heading back home. Saturday, we were surprisingly OK, and we met my friend James in town before heading for another trip to the theatre. Matinees are great, and I much prefer them to evening shows. There’s something Narnia-esque about going into a theatre during daylight, and coming out in daylight, too. And, in between, you’re losing yourself in a whole other world, away from the humdrum banality of real life. It’s delicious.
What’s not so delicious, is then losing all modicum of common sense and getting battered in the hours between the curtain falling and bedtime, especially when you know you have an important occasion the next day. I honestly, genuinely thought that K and I would be home in time for Match of the Day and an early night ahead of the double Scouse christening that Sunday. Instead, we discovered that Ma Egerton’s is a time machine, a place you can enter at 6pm and leave at midnight, with only 10 minutes passing in between. I still felt OK, even after a gallon of vodka and a barrel of Bailey’s, but that’s the problem, I always feel OK before the hangover, ’tis the nature of the beast, right?
Sunday, then, was a personal car crash, and I can honestly say I’ve never been as disappointed and ashamed of myself, as I was that day (and believe me, there are plenty of incidents to choose from…). It was a beautiful day – freezing yet sunny, everybody looked beautiful, especially the proud mothers and their incredibly well-behaved children. The two stars of the show, also, were utterly adorable and you could sense the pride oozing out of everybody as the priest did his thing (and who cracked a few jokes along the way, too). So to know that I would have to go back to bed, pretty damn soon, if I was to have any chance of staying alive, was destroying. As soon as I saw all the food waiting to be devoured in the social club, later, I knew I had to go before I made an even bigger fool of myself. Turning up to something so important with the hangover the size of Poland, is not the behaviour I expect of myself, or anyone else. But it did send me on a pretty deep soul search, and was perhaps the kick I needed to finally get my life sorted out. Nothing like a bit of public shame to make you start facing reality.
I got my head down (not in the toilet, this time…) and powered through a week of work. By Friday, I was exhausted – a 10,000 word short story, the second draft of the short, 3 articles, 3 meetings and 5 chicken stir fries. And that’s when I realised something – I have no real structure in my life. It’s like I can’t be creative or productive unless I have too many things to do. I do my best work when I know I’m in danger of missing the deadline. If I have five jobs on the go that I know will mean working 14 hour days to complete, I’ll have no problem accepting a sixth on top of that. But when things go quiet, I get antsy, irritable, and just don’t know what to do with myself. It’s like my work is everything, because I don’t have anything else. Most of my friends are married with children, and would kill to have the flexibility with time that I know I am very fortunate to enjoy. But if I don’t know what the endgame is, then what am I actually doing with my life?
I’ve always put my career first, because I’ve always known what I wanted to do, and I knew I would feel unfulfilled if I didn’t get out there and do it. I’ve always had that focus and I was brought up to believe that there is nothing I am not capable of if I put my mind to it. I just didn’t think things would take so long, and I was definitely unprepared for all the politics and machinations that exist in this industry (like most industries, I guess). Trying to make a living from writing, is like throwing your fate open to the winds. It’s not about what you write, or how good it is. It’s about knowing the right people. And even when you know the right people, you have to write the right thing, at the right time, and have the right person read it at precisely the right moment. When all those stars align, you might make it.
I’ve never wanted to be insanely rich, I just want to be able to earn enough to live comfortably and do the things I want to do. To be able to hop on a plane to New York for the weekend, to go try that fancy new restaurant in town and not worry about paying the bill, to maybe rent a cottage by the sea for a couple of months and finish the next book with no interruption and no hassle. I really thought that, by now, I’d have a few films under my belt, a couple of books, definitely more TV. The ‘plan’ was to have done all that by my thirties, so I could then think about the whole relationship and kids thing, knowing I could commit to such responsibility, with everything else out of my system. But I’m 40 now, and although I’m still confident that the creative seeds I’ve planted will soon start bearing fruit, it doesn’t take Carol Vorderman to work out that, on a personal level, I may have left the other stuff way too late, and that’s beginning to haunt me.
Losing weight is definitely a huge step to fixing things I’m not happy with, but the bigger picture is way more complex than that. I like to think that anything can happen, that we never know what’s around the corner, what life has planned for us. And, even if we don’t like that plan, there’s nothing to stop us changing it. But time just seems to pass so damn quickly, that everything becomes a blur, and it’s frustrating when you’re trying to get somewhere, but there’s a Stop sign on every corner. More bad metaphors. A bit like life.
Things I’ve Learned This Fortnight
1. I need to slow down
The thing is, I wear myself out with work, then I go overboard on the ale to ‘relax’. The only times I have a day off (weekends included), is if I’m too hungover to function, which isn’t really having a proper day off, is it? I power along doing a million things at once, because that’s the only way I manage to do them, and then I’ll ‘reward’ myself with lots of alcohol and late nights, because I ‘deserve’ it. And then I feel crap. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, a vicious circle of self-abuse, and it needs to stop.
Dreading Looking Forward To This Week
Esther Wilson’s new play, a site-specific production being staged at the Bombed Out Church (St Luke’s) on Leece Street, until Friday. It’s set in and around a homeless shelter, so it’s entirely appropriate that the audience have to sit outside and huddle up in blankets as the story unfolds. Get tickets here.
I spent my formative years in Nottingham, plus most of my 20s, so I’ve got some very special chums down there, who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like. The legendary Tuesday Club was born there, and this Saturday will be a bit of a reunion, as we’re all going to watch the National somewhere and have a good old chinwag. I always stay at Spike’s, so I hope he’s got the bacon in and the baked beans already cooking on a low light, as we’re bound to stay up until Stupid O’Clock talking rubbish, as though I was just there five minutes ago…
3. Our Mollie (aged 7)
The centre of my universe, Miss Mollie Deane, is with us all week, so I’ve decamped to mum’s. Already she’s done a great job of relaxing me, with her child’s view of the world and she makes me realise how simple things really can be. I’ve also just discovered that she’s amazing at complicated mathematical equations. Which is a bit creepy.
Last Fortnight I Have Mostly Been Watching…
Pah, Sons Of what? Forgotten it already. Instead, last week’s obsession was this slick, stylish, zippity-quick legal drama from US cable. I’d come across it at mum’s one Sunday. She and Dad were fast asleep on the sofa after Sunday dinner and Bullseye, and we were stuck in that downtime between winning the speedboat and Match of the Day 2 starting . Channel-hopping, I flicked to this while the kettle was boiling (OK….while I opened another bottle of wine…), and I was immediately hit by brilliant dialogue that sounded like it had come straight from The West Wing. Checking I hadn’t missed a Sorkin classic, I was glued for the rest of the episode, even if was in the middle of Season 2. Getting home, I’d put Suits onto the download list and this week I got through all 26 episodes in three nights.
It’s the tale of a 20-something slacker, Mike Ross (Patrick J Adams) with a photographic memory and a heart of gold, who needs to get rich quick so he can pay his beloved grandmother’s nursing home fees. When his attempts at drug dealing go wrong, he stumbles into an interview for NYC’s top law firm, out to recruit their latest Harvard graduate. Ross impresses the boss – Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) – with his chutzpah and his knowledge, and is hired on the spot, with Specter fully aware that Ross has no law degree and is not legally allowed to practice, but Harvey’s a maverick and sees a lot of himself in Ross. The series thus follows Ross as he is mentored by Specter, and their attempt to keep his lack of a law degree, secret.
It’s intelligent, witty, and roars along at 100mph. The characters are three dimensional and bounce so well off each other, especially Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman), who’s just hilarious. OK, so the women all have to be gorgeous, as is the rule in US television, but they often get the best lines, so I’ll let that go. If you haven’t seen it, check it out, I think it’s on Dave.
My friend Kath told me about this, yonks ago, and I wish I’d started watching earlier. It’s fluff, but it’s really good fluff. Don’t be put off by the premise – handsome, but roguish, crime novelist shadows a pretty (obviously), but tough, New York cop, as he researches his next novel. They’re chalk and cheese, she hates him with a passion….yeah, yeah, you know where this is going. It’s very 80s-ish in feel, BUT, it’s surprisingly well done. If you can get past the first episodes, where the cast are obviously getting used to one another and the chemistry isn’t quite there, and you’ll realise that this is really a bit of a peach. All the cliches are there, of course (outlandish coincidences, out of this world forensic stuff, cops running in high heels etc), but the week-to-week stories are actually quite intriguing and very cleverly written. The two leads – Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic – do have a very convincing chemistry, without which this wouldn’t work at all, and I like the way the scriptwriters put loads of tongue in cheek stuff in there. They’re not taking themselves too seriously, and they’re writing intelligent crime stories, plus it can be really funny (difficult to pull off both). I persevered with Season 1 Eps 1-4, then flew through the rest, and now I’m waiting, very impatiently, for Seasons 2 and 3 to finish downloading. My new obsession.
I don’t know why I like Masterchef, there’s no logical reason for wanting to watch Gregg Wallace and John Torode talk loudly to each other about fondant potatoes and molecular gastronomy. But there’s something about this show that’s compelling. Whether it’s the fact that most of these “best amateur cooks in the country”, can’t even boil an egg, or their terror every time they’re presented with “the Invention Test”, is so amusing, it doesn’t really matter. It’s great TV. My favourite so far is Sophie, who’s just so lovely and unassuming, and is convinced with every moment that passes, that she’s about to be found out and sent home for being rubbish, when in fact she’s a brilliant, inventive cook, who deserves to win simply because she’s just so nice.
4. Boardwalk Empire
I confess it still takes me ages to figure out what’s going on in each episode and sometimes I have to watch it twice – there are just so many characters and sub-plots, but I love it all the same. It’s so well made, the photography is gorgeous, and the acting top notch (bad accents aside). Got about 8 episodes to go of Season 3, but Season 4 might be ready to go by the time I reach the end.
The Stats Bit:
Month 1: 8.75lbs
Month 2: 5.25lbs
Month 3: 1lb
Month 4: 0.5lbs
Month 5: 3lbs
Month 6: 1.5lbs
Month 7: 0lbs
Week 29-30: 1lbs
Total after 210 days: 21lbs