Davina McCall is spoiling my sexy menopause

I fall into Bushwacker health shop, like Emily Blunt escaping marauding aliens in an apocalyptic supermarket. I’m sweating need. There’s stuff that will save me in here. Cher’s number about turning back time is spinning inside my cerebrum, whose ageing cognitive decline is robbing my stories of nouns.

Any minute now, a septuagenarian with the cells of a newborn will ask me what I want, and I’ll need to suppress panic. How do you tell a woman who cheats at Christmas with non-vegan moss broth you’ve been habitually abusing your body for 49 years, and it’s not best pleased.

‘5HTP, NAC, Glutathione.’ What’s happening? I’m spewing alphabets and numbers. Has my software malfunctioned?

Suddenly, the ghosts of bookmarked jade roller tweets and cellulite buffer articles resurrect. I recall a Mission Impossible latex mask a million mid-lifers swear gets them mistaken for a young Tom Cruise; women on Instagram doing demented dancing in high-waisted jeans, tripping on being over 50 and not dead.

‘And collagen,’ I whimper. ‘Norway’s post-Brexit marine quota will need to be sacrificed for the job’.

‘Do you take vitamin C?’

Oh God, this innocent is under-qualified. I buy family bags of crisps without the family and make soup from negronis. We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Back in the halcyon days when Bobbbies rode bicycles and the poor were chuffed with their lot, women could enjoy a miserable menopause privately. All they had to do was to pretend they were fine, while struggling mentally, physically and spiritually. It was perfect. My own mother didn’t even notice hers; she was too depressed.

Now male MPs are wearing hot flush vests to discover an empathy they can’t quite access for children heading to Rwanda. ‘‘I’m feeling this on my back now,’ said the former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, a few seconds after putting the vest on.’

Dear Reader, where did it all go wrong? One word: education. Specifically: Davina McC.

To re-cap, there’s a limit to what the body can forgive, and one’s forties are ten years over it. Correction must commence. Madonna showcases its potential given a twenty year dedication to the cause. By 2025 she’ll be officially net zero carbon, composed of oxygenated stardust and Rupert Everett’s tears.

But just as all crêpey hands are on deck to scoop out the waters of the sinking ship, in floods a swoosh of hormone mayhem. It’s not enough you might dislocate your neck washing up. If at this point you pass on chowing down on yams and rubbing angry cream into your thighs, you’re also in danger of identifying as Robert de Nero in Taxi Driver.

The sole comfort is that you might be getting away with it a bit. An absence of light plus dense concealer may protect your mystery. Perhaps that silk pillowcase cover has indeed rowed back months on a few blue cheese veins (unless that was sorted by the acid).

Only, no longer, because Davina’s busy empowering the sisterhood, shedding our shame faster than dry skin. A modern-day oracle of myth-busting toned muscle, she’s out there claiming that being a fabulous crone is a thing that can be done, then showing all the people the thing being done.

This means commuters use kind eyes to laser through the free-range arse I’ve trussed up in a pencil skirt, wondering why I’ve given up. They don’t know it takes 4 hours on a treadmill to budge looking at cheese and that Amanda Holden’s last meal was when she divorced Les Dennis.

Captioned graphics of guerrilla symptoms are now reaching unprecedented audiences. Did everyone realise we get swollen tongues and burning toes and a fear of going out? We have ants in our shins and knock things over. Our thumbs have gone weird.

But, no matter, because we know ourselves deeply. To hell with skin that re-settles after a pinch: we want Louise Redknapp’s devilish eye twinkle and Carol Vorderman’s counting skills.

Back in the shop, I’m in rescue mode.

There are a handful of bottles on the table, for only £453. They have induced a new calm. I’ll continue to creep my own secretive path: ‘no’ to hosting a lunch ‘n learn on my atrophied vagina; ‘yes’ to the yoga- that gong bath version where you lie on the floor reverberating.

A millennial places his snack bar next to my stash and smiles.

The lady scans. She understands my plight. She’s been here before. We are mavens together.

‘Is there new stock?’ she calls to her colleague. ‘This woman is bound to need lube.’



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Processing grief in a pandemic

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Coronavirus has brought loss into sharp relief on a global, collective level and an intensely personal one.

We’re mourning the loss of livelihoods, of habits, freedoms and assumptions. In chaotic times, we’re meeting with fresh fears for the safety of ourselves and the people we love. There are unanswered questions and unknowable outcomes. This status shift of the world we negotiate is destabilising, like standing on ground that wobbles.

At the same time, many are submerged in personal grief by the death of a loved one. Whether from the virus or other causes, the force of this compound anguish can’t be underestimated. A lonely death and an unattended funeral can conspire to build a burden of near intolerable pain.

How to process the legacy of this heartbreak healthily?

Grief is non-uniform and non-linear. It’s felt differently, at different times, for a different time period, by each individual. This is reflective of personality, circumstance and relationship to what or whom has been lost.

Suffering, however, is a commonality. And if there’s something we can all agree on, it’s that we don’t like it. Although the focus of life as meaning or happiness is much debated, both pre-suppose a level of well-being: unhappiness is uncomfortable.

Humans have a natural response to try to minimise pain.

In fact, the more we can allow it, the better.

Minimising has several characteristics. Here are 3 big ones:

I need to be strong.

The belief that sadness is weak. That we’re letting ourselves and others down by relenting to it and will be in danger of completely falling apart.

Sadness may need to be invited in, but it won’t leave even if it isn’t; it will wait, or find a window you didn’t realise was open. If you trust it has a reason to be and listen to it, it will allow other emotions to join sooner.

This can’t be normal.

Our rational mind attempts to contextualise our discomfort, concluding our overwhelmed response to be wrong.

Grief is not usual. But not only is it normal, it’s necessary. It bypasses your desire to function as you’re used to. It’s creative and bespoke in the ways it causes you to react. Unless your thoughts turn suicidal, in which case you must seek help, all responses are OK.

I can fix this.

By self-medicating, compartmentalising, drinking alcohol or taking recreational drugs, we try to escape or control the pain. We hope to isolate or contain it.

But grief can’t be so easily commandeered or deferred, and it touches every aspect of experience. At its centre is a crisis that attacks your sense of being in the world. Around this, your body, your emotions, your day-to-day functioning, your relationships– everything is impacted. There are no short-cuts or handy hacks, just a path through to healing and hope over time.

The only work of grief is to be authentic; to believe in its reason for being; to acknowledge its reach and complexity. Our task is to access our strength when we can and to allow our pain when it floods in.

In challenging times especially, there’s comfort in knowing we’re not judged by how we cope with loss; we’re elevated by the ways we make space for love.

*With huge thanks to lovely Caroline Mentzer for embracing me on healthinsynergy.co.uk, her fantastic site combining holistic and conventional approaches to family health and wellbeing. xxx


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Why camping is shit.

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It takes an unfeasibly large quantity of man-made materials to get back to nature, not including the stuff you really need that you’ll have left behind. Time to smell a rat when your holiday packing list is the answer to, ‘Will I freeze to death?’ and, ‘How to make the family feel less extremely uncomfortable?’

The food shopping is hard to get right. You can’t keep the cold stuff cold but you’ve got nothing to heat it up with and no energy left after the meticulous planning of the alcohol provision.

When you arrive, fresh from being wedged against the car window by a double duvet and a pack of croissants, your tent isn’t as good as everyone else’s. Theirs are symmetrical. They have bunting and swimsuits on pegs drying in the front porch area. They have front porch areas. They look like they’ve been erected by a millennial from Millets after an almond milk smoothie.

Yours looks like it was put up by one and a half late twentieth century burnouts who sacrificed a slice of their marriage they couldn’t afford- because it was and you did. The ground sheet belongs on a small table, holding bread. There are loose toggles and spare flaps. It smells like failure. The sleeping pods will drape down to graze your comatosed face in the terrifying light of dawn, suffocating you with nylon condensation. The mattress, whose air sucked the life out of the car battery, is preparing itself to show you it wasn’t built for something very heavy to lie on it, putting pressure on the tiny undiscoverable hole.

The kids get flatbed roller filthy, meaning they’ll never be the same colour again. When they eat sausages with their fingers, they may as well be using chopsticks fashioned from impacted faeces. They get splinters and make up cruel, excluding games in the woods, where no adult can stop them. They go swimming without towels. They steal each other’s glow sticks, then fall into bed 3 hours beyond being bearable, with their teeth welded together by ketchup and burnt marshmallows. They replace the tent failure smell with something worse, then wake you up an hour into working off your campfire hangover to say they’re cold and hungry and need to poo. At which point you give them an extra pair of shorts, a warm coke and advice to hold it in.

Everyone is better than you. They’ve made sharing dishes with pulses and have spare gas canisters for their 6-ring stoves. They play ball games with all the children. They enjoy one chilled Pimms out of a re-usable cup, harmonise a song with their partner, then say they’ve had a lovely day and it’s time to get some shut-eye. Which they won’t get, because you’ll still be talking too loudly in the freezing darkness around the fire outside their perfect pitch at 2 in the morning, sunburnt and jazzed up on rum.

On pack-up day, you feel like Godzilla. There’s no water or hope left. Just scared people wandering around with bowls of dirty dishwater, asking who’s got their bottle opener.

When you fold the tent that has now grown to circus marquee proportions and won’t fit in its bag, the ghetto left on the grass makes you feel like the first person on the scene after a plane crash. It’s the contents of your whole house, minus the walls and drawers, plus an escaped demon ferret. Jumpers with houmous on the sleeves. Empty crisp packets in shoes that don’t match and aren’t yours. Tennis rackets no-one used, wrapped in toilet roll and toothpaste. Everything infested by countless unclassified bugs and reeking of wood smoke.

Ok, the bits inbetween are a riot.

Next year, we’re gonna cruise into Mellow Farm in one of these:

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Short reflection on death

Insistent dragging force mocking the weakened grip it sires

That with power draws power, sucks and dries, wears down

Closes the show with a void, when an ovation is craved

Midwifes the vast something into a strange nothing

Why do we shrink? Siloed by shared reality

(The binary truth of an entrance and an exit)

Which child-like glitch reveres what’s next over what has been?

(Cannot accept forever dwells in tales)

Death thieves our self, chipping at our why and how

Taunts our fading with the finger, chomps an early bite from hope

But out there’s not where we live; it’s in each other

Our final breath finds perfect resolution in each heart

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Holiday Massage

Love massages- holiday novelty ones especially.

This year, Italy and Gina. It’s South Puglia, so I’m thinking feelgood rustic, not matcha foot spritz.

Yep, the little rooftop side room with linen curtain comes with no frills; whale music’s a stranger. But she’s in a snappy, professional uniform, which is a nice touch.

And that’s what she’s got. Swishy circular motions. Gentle leg gliding. I get it. It’s a Sweet-Smiley, not a Sorty-Outy. Lovely. 30 degree tunes drifting up from the terrace bar, splashy pool noises.

Gina’s probably the owner’s sister, oiling my back using a pot from the family’s yield. She applies imperceptible pressure to places that must mean something to her.

Soft and sensual, it sets me off on a wave of Ellen Degeneres fantasy, before I hear, ‘Breeda.’


Si, breeda. Ah, how you say… respiri.’

Oh,’ I chortle. ‘Breathe.’

So I suck in a big, slow gulp of balmy Italian summer, when… WHAT THE UNHOLY SPEEDO-SPORTING CHRIST WAS THAT?

Pain. Confusion. Was there a car accident? Where are my vertebrae? On the road, scattered like dislodged piano keys?

No, I’m in the room, just me and Gina. Has she…? How could she…? Is this a skull massage, and I failed to notice she’s bald?

All I know is Gina’s using a body part up and down the length of my spine (possibly pre-loved by Oscar Pistorius, surely with 10 local relatives lending their strength) and I don’t know how to play this game. Does it stop when I yelp? Is that when she’s won? Or is that the ramp-up signal, and she’ll lean in further?

Irrelevant, while my eyes bulge mutely from my head. At the point of contact, I’m the depth of a Delia Smith pre-baked scone- a cartoon Tom and Gerry Tom emerging flat from the cement road roller.

I turn over, and Nice Gina is back. Round-and-round-the-garden-like-a-teddy-bear on the palm of my hand, like both of us don’t know she’s a direct descendent of Hitler’s randy visit to Rome in 1942.

My back’s in spasm, which she mirrors in juddery petit mal seizure movements up my arms. Is this her customised style? What’s next, eyeball crochet?

Then, hands around the throat. Not an hour since, we’ve been discussing the challenges faced by local police landed with Big News crime. ‘They’re not used to dealing with it,’ we agree. ‘Stolen burrata’s their speed.’

I regret my poor Italian. I have no yen for a ham ciabatta. I need to know, ‘Have mercy’, or ‘Leave some clues’.

She goes easy on my double chins, where I hoped she’d prove herself, but is now heading down to my stomach, and Bad Gina- Bitter Gina, who was bullied at school for eating too much gelato in the piazza after church on Sundays- is back. She’s pummelling hard, though I don’t recall her asking if I might be pregnant, or even slightly fond of my internal organs.

It’s a wrap. She pit-pats the corners of my mouth, trying to make them turn up. Gives my earlobes a squeeze.

I check in to myself. I breeda. I’m intacta.

She speaks Italian. We shrug. She grabs her iPhone to show me Google translate, which reads, ‘Wrist pain’.

Good God, woman, what does that mean? You’ve left me with some? You’ve got it, and would have meant business if you didn’t? Is this the reason you used your skull?

Any which way, she’s sorry, which may help with the night terrors.

We enjoy- what, a sisterly moment of connection?, a shared trauma eye-lock?- as I make a bid for the exit.

Now, relaxa,’ she says kindly, turning to re-arrange her instruments.


Filed under Mumbo Life, Mumbo Obsessions, Uncategorized

Dear Barrie

Dear Barrie,

You were my next door neighbour until you moved into a care home 4 years ago with a brain tumour, and you died this week, aged 77.

I didn’t know much about you, but this is what I know:

You danced to your own tune.

You were a recluse and a hoarder. You had a distinguished career at the BBC as a costume designer. I didn’t meet you properly until you invited me into your house and showed me around. Afterwards, I couldn’t catch my breath trying to relay the experience. Rooms to the ceiling with books and magazines. Wardrobes of vintage material you hadn’t got to since 1975, because there was too much stuff in the way. Chandeliers and candle holders collected from auctions and shops. A box room of porn- a WHOLE ROOM- that was ‘naughty’, and I wasn’t to spend too long in. (I spent too long in there once, after you left the house.)

You were talented.

You recreated the look of a Versailles Palace in your living room. (We live in Acton.) You crafted the mouldings with your own hands and painted the walls duck-egg blue. You placed antique clocks and ornaments all around. You made lighting fixtures, with tiny painted metallic flowers that must have taken literally hours.

You were funny.

You had a sense of homour. No, you had a great sense of humour. You made incisive observations about all the cretins around you. Adroitly queeny, never mean. It was clear you were spot on.

You had presence.

Before you went into the home you came to help me make some decorations I was planning to sell at a homesale. You were joyful and considered, when you said things.

You had an amazing collection of art books.

When you moved out of your home, a lovely local book dealer went through your collection and was impressed. He paid a decent sum to your relatives, for the books he took.

Indirectly, you gave my mother-in-law a good ending to her life.

I liked your care home and recommended it to my father-in-law, for my mother-in-law. She was also well looked after there, until she passed.

You loved your garden.

It was a bit of a jungle. But you were out there with your clippers, tending the roses, up until the day you left. About 5,000 foxes moved in afterwards that your nephew had re-located to the countryside.

You had a family who tried.

Your sister and nephew came to visit you in the home. I’m not sure this sister understood you, but she did the best she could. I didn’t visit enough either, by the way. When I did, you didn’t know who I was, but it didn’t matter.

You had a true friend called Jack.

Jack stuck by you through everything. He bathed you and comforted you during the crisis times. He visited you when no-one else did. He was at the hospital and the care home and back at the hospital at the time of your death, and a great deal besides. This man was your friend.

There was a local Bobby on a bike who looked out for you.

He checked on you regularly and brought you home when you were wandering and becoming unwell. He’s Scottish with a beard, and he’s been helpful in other ways since.

You lived in an age where it wasn’t OK to be homosexual.

People laughed. Your family struggled. I don’t know the half of it. But you weren’t cowed.

You liked classy things.

Art. Ideas. Humour. You were friends with the Royal household. Your family didn’t get this about you. You were just posher than them. Not to say they were common as muck. (You’d have tittered at this.)

You loved and were loved.

You loved your Mum, and she loved you. You were her ‘little boy’, and you were always good.  Your sister, who died, loved you, too.

You were kind and gentle.

It’s just the way you were, Barrie.

We enjoy your beautiful garden ornaments.

When our shared fence was replaced, your relatives invited us to take what we wanted from your house and garden. We have your bench (the one the BBC gave you on your retirement that you said you would sit on and think about how shitty the BBC were), a bird bath, and stone pieces. Our garden would be much rubbisher without your treasures, and we talk about you, whenever anyone points things out.

I also took a rare limited edition art book I thought I could sell on Ebay. I will, but I’ll donate the proceeds to Cancer Research in your name.


I didn’t know much about you, Barrie, but these are the things I know.

And now anyone who reads this (and I have a vast and influential readership) knows these things too.

Rest in Peace, Old Bean.

‘Nice Sophie from next door’, Gethin and the boys


Filed under Mumbo Life, Uncategorized

How to not die








I’ve decided that going nuts at someone doing their job badly is an antidote to having a heart attack.

Averted episodes through the ritual abuse of traffic wardens, in particular, would be interesting to quantify.

We’re asked to believe that staff whose work involves asking for I.D you’ve forgotten have the right to work without the threat of violence.

But do they?

Couldn’t an internal workshop switch this? ‘Customers want to kill you merely in your uniform, not you per se.’

Anger is vital. It makes you feel alive, like something’s at stake. It’s an opportunity to win, to purge, to be heard. It neutralises the platitudes you dish out at Co-op. Boiler repair. Council tax. Relationship nappy contents. It’s expressive and dramatic and show-offy.

But it’s also wrong and out of control. It’s unreasonable and unaware and ugly. TED talk monks don’t do it. Nor do educated fleas.

Anger is base.

Necessary to bridge the gap between its sublime beauty and rank unacceptability is self-righteousness; street name, A Valid Reason. Imagine someone agreeing, ‘Damn right’ when you recount the flare-up, then work backwards from there.

It’s not going to be a person over whom you have power- an employee, a child, your partner (God forbid). It can’t be one who is blameless, or annoying.

It has to be where you’re indisputably right, news of which imparts a learning opportunity to the shoutee.

You’re expelling a growth moment in your bile, is what you’re doing.

Your target is someone acting in an official capacity and making a right royal omelette of it, channeling high-grade dickery through their unprofessionalism.

A mathematical equation should unfold: you’re paid to do a job; you’ve failed; I point out the difference. More accountability vigilantism than emotional incontinence.

But where can I find such a person? said no-one ever.

For how low the fruit hangs: the incompetents are all around, cowboy carpenter Jesuses cocking up on a loop.

Tradespeople, accountants, consultants. Shop workers, online retailers, National Trust helpers. Every single person you work with- especially at the top.

The golden arse at The Ambassadors Theatre who sold me puppet show tickets to musical theatre.

Collectively skulking off duty to tattoo ‘I had one job’ on their foreheads…only not getting it done because they’ve bungled the booking time.

(This is, in fact, the raison d’etre of Dry Cleaners. Not to launder our clothes, or even our money, but to cleanse our fury. Lord knows, the guys who nuked the pearls on my wedding outfit, then lost my duvet, now understand this model with exquisite certainty.)

Goons, all, here to give you your own personal work-out. Each heated exchange spirited point scoring, or sport for the stressed. Akin to the braying in the House of Commons, or Susanna Reid tweaking Piers Morgan.

A whole bunch of non-personal, transactional bants.

New York taxi drivers have got a degree in it- fuck you, they have!

The landscape has changed, let’s note.

There’s an industry out there working hard to ruin the game. Trying to short-circuit your wrath in queues, with their friendly tablets. Telling you they care on calls. They respond to your Twitter rants, send you desperate discount codes.

It’s completely impossible to get a rise out of Abel & Cole. They’d rather post you a cook-book and free lemons than let you lose the plot on their dime.

And now we’re all oracles and commentators, there’s ever more taking offence at those taking offence. Ricky Gervais is their patron saint. Never mind if Britain was built on Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells: to be censored is acid.

But- shhhh; as safeguarder to your cardiovascular health, miffedness moonlights as the gentler sibling.

On the spectrum of asserting your important importance on this plant, it is pure and low risk. You can never be wrong; you’re a victim; others are insensitive swines. Why, you’re virtually beholden to re-visit the violin backstory that birthed your justified whinge. ‘Some of us can’t have an apple a day. Some of us once blew up like a bullfrog downloading iTunes.’

The black sheep of catharsis? Road rage. The guerilla member. The loser addict son who turns up late to his father’s funeral.

Last week, I claimed a 50% share in an event that could have led to a post on shame or the criminal justice system, but instead felt ice cold great.

It involved hard breaking, sustained horn blasts, dramatic cross-road swerves (both) and a full dismount (him) with primal shouting, as I shot down a back alley, 3 x under-eights in the back wearing Father Dougal expressions.

It was visceral, from a deep place. Wordless and instinctive. Revenge, enacted without so much as a single hand gesture or raised eyebrow.

Afterwards, I felt healed. Babydriver fresh from a craniosacral session.

Go forth, you too, and displace your misery.

Petition your undersized gingerbread men for £1.95 at Kew Gardens. Take umbridge at marauding Facebook fools. Cut up twats in white BMWs.

Your life depends on it.




Filed under London Mumbo, Mumbo Life, Mumbojumbosheepism, Uncategorized

The Duke

People from the past are mythical beasts: you don’t see them any more; your recall of them is patchy; they’re frozen in the tableau of their time.

The mirage of one such caricature, Dan, popped into my head this week-end.

On a desk in the far corner of the third floor of Edinburgh University’s main library is carved an unambiguous message: ‘Fuck off home, Ya’s‘- presumably at the hand of a minority indigenous student overwhelmed by the influx of southern jessies romping around the local Ceilidh bars in wine-coloured cords.

The composition of the flat share allocated to my boyfriend, Rupert, in his first year, was a fair reflection of this: 4 Englishmen in a 4-bedroom flat, the slight twist being that Rupert wasn’t a Rupert, but a stocky Yorkshire farmer with a beard- an impressive and worldly 21 years to our 18.

Rupert’s flatmates, by contrast, were bonafide Ruperts: a brooding Wagner enthusiast (later to become boyfriend number 2); a boy (Walter?) with the spectacles, clothes, and intellect of a Bletchley Park code-breaker, who hung oil paintings on his wall; and Dan.

Dan was the apotheosis of the inept public schoolboy, possibly due in sad part to the absence of a mother in his life. A rarefied soul, it was quite possible he’d never been exposed to sunlight, or the general public. He was tall, platinum blonde, very thin, and very white, so Rupert called him The Duke.

The Duke was the first person in my life to objectively classify my mediocrity, wearily declaring one day that I was ‘so middle class’, with the emphasis on the ‘so’ to clarify I was in no danger of troubling the upper end of the spectrum. While he may not emerge from this anecdote a hero, then, still he was no fool.

Rupert found the Duke to be an endless source of fascination and amusement, though he never went to town on it in a cruel way. He was genuinely stupefied that such a creature was in existence, and living in his midst. We’re talking here about a young man with mud under his fingernails rooming alongside one who had spent the past 10 years engorging his brain with books, from the hard bed and cold showers environment of a drafty elite boarding school- one who said things to taxi drivers, such as ‘How many sovs will that be then, Guv?’

Three events (unfairly?) define The Duke for me. It’s a shame, because imagine how many more there must have been! The regaling of them was improved immeasurably by Rupert’s filter, equal parts incredulity and laughter.

1: Potato-gate

Flat communal meal night. Everyone’s given a dish to prepare. The Duke is given the simplest, as it’s doubtful he’s prepared anything more involved than a Ginsters sausage roll, since he’s arrived. Everyone sits down, ready to tuck in. The Duke’s potato salad looks good. Miniature baby potatoes with salad cream and maybe even some herbs: the boy done good. Until, wait: ‘Jesus Christ, Dan. You know you have to cook the potatoes, first?’

2: T.V.-gate

The boys are watching some day-time. Urgent knock on the door. ‘Guys, watch out. T.V licence people are in the building.’ Rupert gets up and turns off the T.V. He’s thinking about where to hide it in the flat, when The Duke yanks the plug out of the wall, wraps his skinny frame around the bulky T.V., and charges out of the front door to take it to another flat. Which he succeeds in doing, thanks to the licensing hounds stepping to one side so he can bundle past them up the stairs, red in the face and panting under the weight of the contraband set.

3 Water-gate

Rupert is in his room. After a while, he clocks the sound of running water that isn’t subsiding. He investigates, to find The Duke standing in the kitchen running both taps full blast. ‘What are you doing, Dan?’ he asks, already suspecting the answer’s not going to help. ‘Fuck the water authorities,’ says the Duke. ‘Just fuck them.’

Ah, Dan. Where are you now?







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Chess Megafinals


You are having a nightmare. You’ve done something very bad and have been sent to Hell. Worse, you have to drive yourself and two children there at 8.30am on a Saturday morning.

Welcome to the Hertfordshire leg of the under 7s Chess Megafinals, a 9am-6pm torture marathon designed to redress the karmic balance of tiger parents.

Rufus and his retro-gaming chum are in a state of pre-match nerves. They are worried that mini Kasparovs lurk therein, blissfully unaware that a pulse and a self-harming mother in a car were the qualification criteria.

We have been up since before 7.30am, a goal that has never knowingly troubled my Bank Holiday weekend wish list. I’ve been trying to pep talk both contestants all the way up the M1: get your Knights and Bishops out sharpish; behave like you’re winning; take modest sips of beer between moves.

A helping of traffic, weird car park directions, and a G-force of doom impede our punctuality, so that we arrive in the school gymnasium panting and wild of hair.

But no order there awaits. Large, confused groups mill in random motion with panic in their eyes, like lost scenes from Towering InfernoWhat do the lists mean? How many lashes for a stalemate? Are we black, or white? (Sorry, M. Jackson; that DOES matter here.)

70 chess sets anticipate their 140 pint-sized strategists, as an intellectual hum settles. Immediately, I know these 6 and 7 year olds could take me in a pub quiz, even without their side-partings and bow ties. They’ll grow up to cure diseases and unravel Hawking. I wonder if I might persuade one of them to handle my accounting spreadsheets, for a lollipop.

Boys and girls are split. Attempts to gain feedback on the reason for this fall at the first furlong, though presumably the girls get to play on pinker boards, shifting around My Little Pony horses.

Presiding over the welcome trestle table at the front is a bearded organiser, who has enjoyed a bumpy route to chess, having passed through Ant Collecting along the way and found it too flustering. Today his agitation is betrayed by a large red patch on his ancient-fleece-flanked neck. Seems a cruel God gifted him 2 flat tyres enroute to the venue, forcing him to take a taxi. Safe to say, this man hasn’t used a cab service, or been late, since 1962. Now his clockwork-efficient championships are half an hour in arrears, and he’s near imploding with the unjustness of his destiny.

Kick-off is close. Board game pheromones and competitive genes crowd the air; if the room came to life it would be Tom Cruise.

Time now for the rules, the best of which is encouragement not to thrust your hand out repeatedly between moves to offer a draw. Apparently, this could land you in a harassment lawsuit, the upside of which is preparation for your awaiting career at Goldman Sachs.

Parents are asked to bugger off. Parents won’t bugger off. Parents are asked to bugger off. I’m unsure how long this plays out because I’m hotfooting to Harpenden Town on a desperate junkie-style mission for espresso, leaving behind a sea of players in uniform concentration, stop clocks being tap-tap-tapped, like so many pesky mosquitoes.

On my return, Round 1 is wrapping up, and the emotional vista of the next 7 hours clears miserably. Two tots are choking back sobs while their opponents air pump excitedly. As a rule of thumb, the sort of people who play a game to win are also the sort of people who don’t like to lose, which will present a problem for roughly 70 children per round. Multiplied by 6 rounds, that’s 420 apple-sized hearts due to be broken in one extra-curricular day near St. Alban’s. You’d have to go to a Latymer School entrance exam, or steal the take-home bags of the entire guest list of 21 average birthday parties to replicate that sort of angst; so, on that front, it’s impressive.

Results just in, and it turns out Rufus mis-stepped by offering a draw whilst in possession of a functioning Queen. Meanwhile, his friend was an air pumper. This means my cohort have dodged the first heartbreak ball, and number one of a series of snacks delivering ever-diminishing nutritional returns can commence.

Many have come to witness their treasures reassuringly dis-engaged from an X-Box for 8 hours. All I hope for are some venal, pushy parents to satirise. But, for all the world, I can’t sniff them out. The crew are a mite too amiable, camping out jovially with their instant coffees and packed lunches in the school hall foyer, like refugees glad to have fled a natural disaster- indeed, casting a not unfavourable glow on the dead-eyed karate folk at Cheam gradings who make you re-assess the redeeming features of solitary confinement.

Ding- ding-ding Round 2, 3, 4, 5- it all becomes a blur.

A helper- with the looks and persona of Michael Mcintyre’s weaker twin- patrols to resolve disputes, rarely having to restrain hands behind backs with a rope. (That said, you do NOT want to mess with a 6 yr old who believes his Rook’s been swiped by foul play.)

Highs and lows ensue within a predictable paradigm; there are no nail-biting wet tyre changes in chess.

I pass into a zone of institutionalised apathy, like Dustin Hoffman at the end of Papillon feeding his chickens. Resigned to quaffing polystyrene tea on school chairs, from which I mete out lukewarm trickles of praise and commiseration, I find there’s scant fight left in me. Round 3, 33, 3,333: I’m in a place no league tables can reach.

The tykes are hanging in there. Buoyed by bouts of hide-and-seek and fruit pastilles, they’ve got the prize in sight- the one where we are all released to go home, rather than the one where they win.

In fact, the only thing I know at this point is that neither of my little buddies must qualify for the next-round Gigafinals; nothing at all has ever been clearer. It’s as if my whole life has been leading up to this moment, where I must mid-wife convincing failure.

Rufus’ friend suffers some setbacks. I manage a sad face by thinking about rain and Donald Trump. Now I need to break Rufus. He’s met with losses, too, but not quite enough, and a ball of fear is gathering in my gut. Luckily, he’s in tune (‘would I have to do another day like this?’) so I only need nurture a ‘cooler’ vibe and jazz up their attention spans with Walkers and Fruit Shoots.

Round 6 folds. The long-haul flight has landed. The kids are spent, the adults hollow and resentful. Dare I wait for the results? Do we have to stay for prize giving? Will I have a parking ticket?

Sweet Mary and Joseph, Rufus lost. So, the boys break even, and the buck stops here.

Now it’s me who’s air pumping and gathering the kids close, ready to tackle the motorway home: ‘Guys, there’s this amazing new video game, you’re gonna love it, 2,000 levels…’



Filed under Mini mumbo, Mumbo Life, Uncategorized

Four Seasons At A Funeral- a short story


Joey has died.

No one has kept in real touch with him (or each other) over the last 10 years, but he was a significant crew member back then. He dated most of the girls in his set. Four were seasonal: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.

Joey was James’ best mate by default because Joey was sociable, whereas James is not a people’s person. He waits at the funeral for the others to arrive. Will they have changed? Grown into themselves?

They were easy-going when he was young; you just hung out with them for different reasons. If two turned up at the same time, you could have an unexpected sort of night out. But you never noticed them. You never said to yourself, ‘Wow, I’m hanging out with Summer. Hope she sticks around a while longer.’

James operates outside of traditional signifiers. He dislikes ‘limiting constructs’. He eats lamb, and cream eggs, in August. He wore shorts in Reykjavik at his cousin’s stag do.

He sees a figure coming towards him through the church door wearing Russell & Bromley flats and dark glasses. Winter. She’s aged. 

‘Joey’s gone. It’s unbelievable.’

‘Well, he was ill for ages.’

‘I feel devastated.’

‘When did you last speak to him?’ asks James.

‘Graduation,’ replies Winter.

They sit there a few minutes.

‘I would have visited him, only I don’t like to leave the house much. I do all my shopping in Westfield, straight from car to store. I’d shop online, if they weren’t spying on me.’

She pops a pill in her mouth, nervously. James thinks better than to ask. No more fondue habit, he notes.

‘Now, here’s a pair of reprobates.’ It’s Autumn, recherché in smudged red lipstick and a camel coat, buttons deliberately misaligned.

‘Death makes angels of us all,’ she offers wearily to no-one in particular, seating herself next to Winter who turns to James, undelighted. He pulls an I-thought-you-were-friends expression.

‘She’s two-faced. And changeable. In Pinter’s pocket one minute. Then Frostrup’s. I don’t trust her.’

A heaviness settles on James. They’re an intense presence, these women. Light on laughs. Where’s Spring? he wonders. Suddenly, he’s desperate to see her rosy cheeks, her curls. 

And here she is. She’s more petite, and plainer, than he remembers.

But it’s such a relief to have her around, James finds everything she says jollier than he knows it to be.

‘I’ve bought a starter home in Milton Keynes,’ she stage-whispers to the threesome.

Autumn and Winter stare at her, waiting for better news.

‘Brian’s been promoted, and we’ve got one of these on the way.’ She pats her tidy bump.

James hears Winter make a sound like a sneeze.

Autumn peers through her prescription-less, horn-rimmed glasses. ‘Sounds very…’ she searches for the right word, ‘…hopeful.’

The congregation settles. Thoughts turn to Joey. The first hymn strikes up.

But James can hear something inbetween the organist’s chords. An insistent ‘psst’ sound, coming from the end of the pew. He looks over. Summer. Beckoning at him wildly, her spidery blue mascara lashes reaching out their legs. That isn’t… is that… a jump-suit?

Summer has broken her ankle and wants James to help her to the pew, even though that’s presumably the role of the crutches he’s now carrying. She squeezes her way in, leaning excitedly to micro-wave at the others. James sees she enjoys an easy relationship with her cosmetic dentist.

‘I’ve had a TERRIBLE decade, guys’, she shouts over Jerusalem. ‘It’s been non-stop. You have no idea what I’ve been through.’

Autumn, Winter, and Spring now gawp at her, as at a Towie star who has crashed the funeral. Autumn re-folds her hair into its vintage clip. Winter turns the collar up on her wool coat. Spring crouches to poke around for a Jacob’s cracker in her faded Next handbag. 

‘Bitches,’ seethes Summer to James, shifting her weight onto the good leg. ‘Let’s you and me drink Aperol Spritzes afterwards.’

The service wraps.

James pays his respects to Joey’s family. Skips the wake. Slinks home.

In line with the run-up to all reunions, he’d been worried he wouldn’t measure up. 

But, in line with their playing out, he concludes he’s doing life better than everybody else.

In fact, he’s never felt more anti-social, a-sexual, and a-seasonal, in all his days.



Filed under Mumbo Life, Uncategorized